Friday, December 11, 2009

Ichimonji's Best Games of 2009

Hey, I'm back from the dead to create this entry and then I'll be immediately returning to my grave. 2009 was a strange year for videogames. It started off kind of slow, with a few gems here and there, and ended strong with hits after hits. There were almost no notable RPGs this year though. All we really got was Star Ocean 4, Bowser's Inside Story, Persona PSP, and a bunch of other handheld RPGs. Before I get to my list, I would like to add that I did not play Modern Warfare 2, and I'm almost certain that it would be on my list if I had. It'll probably be on Casey's list if he makes one this year. However, I did play all other AAA titles and then some, so here are my top five selections for 2009.

5. Resident Evil 5 (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)

Resident Evil 5 has one of the best co-op experiences in a videogame. Not as good as Gears of War 2, but it holds its own nonetheless. The elephant in the room seems to be that you aren't able to run-and-gun, and that it's not quite survival horror and not quite a shooter. However, these faults turn into qualities when playing co-op and there is one main reason why. Teamwork. Eliminating the option to run-and-gun gives the player a heightened sense of urgency; creating panic and claustrophobia. This allows for a more satisfying experience when working as a team. You'll find yourself overwhelmed and forced into actually creating strategies with your team mate to get out of a sticky situation. I've never worked so well with another person in a videogame. When all is said and done, you'll be proud of how you worked with your partner and feel like you both actually accomplished something, instead of going in guns-blazing like most other games.

Resdient Evil 5 merits many playthroughs with its new game+ as you can carry over your customized weapons and further power them up. There are also a variety of collectables you can obtain for all you perfectionists out there. The game looks very nice, the music is great, and it really pumps you up with its high levels of intensity. Being what it is, the gameplay is actually pretty good and not at all as frustrating as you probably think it will be. The downfalls for this title are the storyline and voice acting. Also, the when playing single player, the AI of Sheva is pretty bad. However, RE5 is a great experience that I recommend you play with a friend.

4. Dissidia: Final Fantasy (PSP)

Who likes fanservice? I know I do. Dissidia is pretty much the ultimate fanservice game in existence. This is not why it's good though, but i'll get to that later. Dissidia contains twenty-two fighters ranging from the heroes and villains from Final Fantasies I-XII, but you start with only the first ten heroes. Throughout this entire title, there are references, tidbits, trivia, etc, to almost every moment in the series. You might only get to play as the main characters, but I assure you that you'll see all other familiar faces in some shape or form. This game truly is a Final Fantasy fan's wet dream.

Dissidia puts a pretty complex RPG spin on a simple fighting game engine. You move around an area like in Power Stone or Destrega, and you perform simple moves on your enemies like in Super Smash Bros. However, there are multiple different ways to kill an opponent. You have two health bars, BRV and HP, and you can utilize whichever way you think is best to take down your opponent. Factor in summons, EX Gauges, and Traps then everything gets more complicated. You also have tons of stuff to customize and unlock: Armour, accessories, characters; and all these "points" are being thrown at you: EXP, AP, DP, PP. Yes, there is a lot of content to learn, and the learning curve is fairly steep. It can take hours ingest all of the turtorials and this game has to offer, but once you get the hang of it, it's awesome. Dissidia is a very fun game and you can easily play for hours among hours and realize that your entire day has come and gone. It's much more than just a fighting game, so even if that's not your cup of tea I think you'll still have some fun with it. It's very refreshing, and definitely a welcome addition to the series.

3. New Super Mario Bros. Wii (Wii)

You played Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World right? Well, add in the charm from New Super Mario Bros. for the DS and you get this lovechild. New Super Mario Bros. Wii is basically just a new version of an old formula. It's a side-scrolling Mario game with crazy level design, and a few new power-ups. So obviously this is fun, but why is it so good? Especially top-three good? You can play it with four players. Mario is a blast by itself, but once you get three of your friends on board its a whole new type of crazy. NSMBW is more of a party game than any of the Mario Parties, and I'm not exaggerating here. It's a ton of fun.

There is also a competitive multiplayer option which is fun for a while, but you'll find that the main game is where the heart is. With a load of unique levels, tricky bosses, and a Lost-Levels-esque bonus world, you'll find not only excitement, but challenge as well. But wait a second, isn't Little Big Planet like already a 4-player platformer? Yeah, but this is a 4-player Super Mario game. So if you like high dosages of fun, then play this game. Mind you, it's very easy to overdose.

2. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PS3)

Just like with last year's list, I find it hard to decide which of my top two games I want to have the number one spot, as they're both so good. With much debate, Uncharted 2 finds itself at number two. Uncharted 2 takes what we know and love from the first Uncharted and then makes it a million times better. The only real selling point for the first game was that it was a genuine cinematic experience, since the exploration was linear and the gameplay was mediocre at best. Uncharted 2 develops upon the movie experience as well as taking the gameplay and exploration to a whole new level.

Let's start with the movie aspect. Uncharted 2 is a literally a non-stop thrill ride from beginning to end. The gameplay transititions seamlessly into cinematics, and it gives "intense" a whole new meaning. The voice acting is top-notch, the best I've seen in any videogame to date, coupled with the fact that the script is extremely well done. Not to mention that this game looks amazing; its on par, if not moreso, than Metal Gear Solid 4. The gameplay is much more refined. Better shooting controls, aiming, cover, etc. It's pretty much the same idea as the first Uncharted except a lot more polished. The exploration is still kind of linear since its, you know, like a movie, but the areas are a lot more detailed and expansive, and the content gets your blood pumping.

On its own, it's already a solid experience and you can tell how much blood, sweat, and tears went into this game, but there's more... Uncharted 2 comes with an online multiplayer mode, which comes with traditional competitive options and co-op missions. People were doubtful of the multiplayer when it was first announced, but once it became live they realized that it was an experience on par with Gears or Call of Duty. All in all, Uncharted 2 is an amazing as hell game that everyone should play. If you were ever wondering about whether or not to buy a PS3, now is the time.

Game of the Year - Assassin's Creed II (PS3, Xbox 360)

Just like with Uncharted 2, this is a game that develops upon a previous idea, but makes it so much better. Sequels really are a device to get things right. All the complaints about the first Assassin's Creed derived from repetitive missions, awkward combat, and confusing story sequences. Well, Ubisoft Montreal was aware of these problems and corrected them. Unlike Uncharted 2, however, Assassin's Creed II is an open world experience, which is the main reason why it got the number one spot. As much as playing through an action-packed movie is fun, playing through an action-packed game is a tad more fun. The world is gigantic and detailed. There are a ton of sidequests to take on and objects to collect. The world is your oyster. You can purchase weapons, skills, armour, and even upgrade an entire city. Everything that you collect actually counts for something in AC2, which is refreshing.

The true underlying storyline of Assassin's Creed is a Davinci Code meets National Treasure conspiracy adventure. You go through actual events in history and find all these conspiracy theories in real artifacts. There is a spooky sidequest that's dedicated to just this. AC2 takes place in 15th century Italy. You go to such famous places as Rome and Venice, as well as kickin' it with Leo DaVinci and the Pope. The voice acting is excellent and everyone actually speaks italian which is awesome. The story is actually quite surprising and compelling. The Demond stuff is really compelling this time. There's a wide variety of missions to take on this time around and some one-time events that are fun-as-hell to play. There is always something to do. Also, the combat is refined, and it makes killing dudes a lot better.

Assassin's Creed II is a masterpiece. My words here do not do this game any justice, go and play it for yourself. It's amazing.

So yeah, I'm quite happy with how this year turned out. It's certainly not the best year for games, but it was pretty good. The fall/winter sweeps really made 2009 what it is though, and I still have to get on Modern Warfare 2. Looking forward to 2010, I can only imagine the awesome-storm that's coming. Final Fantasy XIII, XIV, God of War 3, Alan Wake, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Halo Reach, Metroid, maybe a new Wii Zelda and Gears 3 as well, plus much more. 2010 should be a wonderful year for videogames.

Honourable Mentions

Flower (PSN)

Flower is beautiful and relaxing. The perfect game for winding down. Anyone who appreciates art and symbolism will enjoy this game. It's under ten dollars and it's quite good.

Street Fighter IV (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)

Latest installment in the Street Fighter franchise. A true sequel to SFIII. There are some new characters, explosive combos, online multiplayer, etc. It's Street Fighter. It's fun.

~ Ichimonji


Saturday, November 28, 2009


Haven't posted anything in a while, so.

Phil's pretty much done with the whole writing thing, so you won't see much/anything from him here anymore. He's back in school, studying radio broadcasting to pursue a career in voice acting. Wish him well, plz. He'll probably pop in occasionally to post a thing or two, but don't expect much.

I haven't updated in a while because I've been studying for the last couple months, and before that I had some personal issues to take care of.

Other than that, I actually registered at EoFF after Mirage shamelessly blackmailed me by making me a welcome thread and then telling me he'd feel stupid if I didn't post in it. No idea how much I'll post there. Probably not much. I had no idea Shotgunnova posted there though, I've followed a few of his FAQs; they're really good.

I had some things to write about before I got occupied, so I'll probably do a couple articles on that stuff... I haven't played any new games lately, though, so I don't have much to say about any of that. I would like to note that the Lufia II remake looks terrible, artistically. I'm not sure how I feel about the gameplay changes, though.

I've been watching the ExtraLives gaming marathons. They don't have all the fancy cameras and huge team of players that The Speed Gamers have, but they are a genuinely funny group of guys, and you can't really argue with raising money for charity. The low-budget-but-still-well-done nature of the whole thing is actually pretty endearing; it makes it seem very sincere. I think they have a full-fledged marathon coming up next month, but I don't think they've announced what they'll be playing yet. I'll watch it regardless.

o_O (Face) from EoFF IRC posted some music he made on Last.FM. If you're into trance/house kind of stuff, definitely check it out. I'm not a fan of that kind of music and I actually kind of like it.

What else... I dunno. I'm playing through Tales of the Abyss on Unknown (read: 4x enemy stats) and it is balls hard. The first real fight of the game took me about 15 minutes to finish. The first boss, almost half an hour. That grade shop is definitely getting a workout... and it better, I spent like 8 hours combined farming grade for 10x EXP and other misc. crap.

That's all I can think of. I'll post an actual thing with stuff in it pretty soon.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

IRC Shit #3: Backpackers backpacking through Demon's Souls with Jibril (REPLACEHUMANS) and Mirage (Mapping an invisible world)

(9:40 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
after a bit of research
demons souls is probably a shitty game
isn't it like super balls hard
(9:40 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
it's super balls annoying
(9:41 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
somewhat like getting hit by aoe instant kill before you have a persona that can resist it
in P3
(9:41 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
and to add to it
if you're logged on to PSN
anyone can enter your game and fuck with you
no way to turn it off
except logging out of PSN
that sounds terrible
(9:42 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
some weeaboos might mistake it as "difficult"
i saw through their bullshit
and just called it horribly designed
another guy said if you had played anything like it before
like Monster Hunter
(9:43 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
you'd find it loleasy
so the game sounds liek it is build around grief play
and endorses it
and promotes it
both from other players
and the devs
so fuck that
the thing is
(9:45 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
the japanese love it
brutal game design like that is fine
but only if
no exceptions
there are lots of checkpoints
(9:46 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
there are checkpoints
and/or save points
(9:46 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
but i couldn't squeeze the frequency of these out of the guy
apparently there is one after each boss
and if you die at the boss, you have to start from right after the previous boss
who knows how far back that is
10 minutes? fine
knowing this type of game
sounds like there's not many checkpoints
(9:46 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
it's probably 30-60 minutes
which = bad design
(9:47 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
can't really argue with it
(9:47 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
but it works on some people
because they think more time invested is directly propotional to difficulty
the only people who think doing an entire level over because the game is pretentious to the point where you need a guide for every coridoor
(9:47 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
and they can jizz over other people when they go on about how much harder their game is
are weeaboos and tryhards
is hard*
(9:48 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
(9:49 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
guess it's why those games don't sell a lot either
persona 3 and 4 have that problem to a lesser extent
also published by atlus
(9:49 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
with like 3 difficulty settings
you could have easily reached out to 10 times as many players
and kept it as hard for the HARD FUCKING CORE players
i mean tryhards
knowing them
(9:50 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
they're gonna complain the game is too easy bow
and refuse to play it
non-hardcores in my game?
According to this guy who loves DS
i'm watching a video of this game
it looks
(9:50 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
there will be moments
fucking boring
(9:50 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
where you can get ambushed
knocked down
(9:51 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
and unable to defend against the followup blows
and die
(9:51 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
that's also why i hate the tekken arcade bosses
(9:51 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
they are imba to the point that they can't ever be made playable
(9:52 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
and have moves like
that's how their battle script goes when you're playing it on easy
difficulty rating on tekken arcade stages are like
(9:53 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
1 1 2 2 3 3 9 10
god damn this game looks so boring
(9:53 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
it's like the most generic hack and slash shit you can think of, but everything takes off half your hp in one hit
(9:54 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
he said that
but god damn i hate gamers
(9:57 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
not buying this
there has always been a need to look intelligent in the eyes of other people, but when gamers start to do it, the people who are supposed to be the cool-headed intellectuals of the modern world
(9:58 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
are they?
and they do it to the extent of thinking games like demon's souls are good
i really don't want to be associated with these people
i feel embarrassed telling people that i played video games
(9:59 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
but yeah jibril
looking at this trailer
imagine dying from a single mistake there
you'd have to start fromt he very beginning
and everything respawns of course
i need a name for these people
hipsters, backpackers, mouth breathers
don't quite fit
something more specific that rolls off the tongue
well actually backpackers is a pretty good word, but it's not entirely accurate
(10:01 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
never heard that used before
(10:02 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
oh rght, you can only take two stabs before dying
backpacker refers to people who started wearing backpacks to be "fashionable" because graffiti artists would go around with backpacks that had all their spraycans and shit
(10:02 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
but falling 60 feet is fine?
basically another word for "poser"
now it's primarily used to describe stupid hipster kids who listen to fringe hip-hop and think they're part of the whole scene
(10:03 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
i wear backpacks man
(10:04 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
don be hatin
(10:04 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
there's 4 parts of this stage on DS
so it's 36 minutes apparently
and this is the first stage
death at any point here means restart from the beginning
but the average "smart gamer" these days is a stupid hipster kid who rides on the coattails of the intellectuals and thinks they know shit
so i guess it's fitting!
what an awful, awful game
(10:05 PM) Mapping an invisible world:
no its hard
u just a noob


Monday, July 6, 2009

may your children always play with guns by Jibril

Yuji Horii wants to make Dragon Quest IX really hard. Perhaps, if you haven't given it much thought, this seems like a reasonable statement. Maybe you even admire him for wanting to make a difficult JRPG.

Me, I'm too busy being dumbfounded at how little the man who created the JRPG understands his own genre.

valkyrie profile is hard

I don't know if you've noticed, but JRPGs aren't difficult. Ever. It doesn't happen. The JRPG is a genre in which all obstacles are overcome by one or more of four simple solutions:

1. Grind more.
2. Employ a specific, often arbitrary or gimmicky strategy.
3. Abuse unbalanced or broken game mechanics.
4. Hope the random number generator doesn't step on your nuts (i.e. get lucky).

As you can tell, not one of those things entails any form of difficulty. Grinding is boring and tedious, not hard. A specific strategy simply requires knowledge beforehand. Broken game mechanics, ditto. RNG is pure luck unless you know how to manipulate it, which is tricky unless you're emulating the game.

ff4 is haaard

The JRPG is an extremely simple, reactionary game of the mind, not one of notable skill. What most people confuse for difficulty is actually what I like to call... well, artificial difficulty. Remember how hard it was to collect all those monsters in Final Fantasy X so you could fight Nemesis? I do. Except it wasn't hard, we were just getting reamed by random number generators and the veritable black plague that is random encounters. You shouldn't feel accomplished after you finally capture that tenth Tonberry, you should feel angry that you got swindled out of valuable time by awful game design. To think, there was a group of people sitting around a table somewhere in Japan, talking about how good an idea that whole thing was.

Some people like randomness in their games. I will never understand those people. Random numbers, random encounters, random items, random enemies. I know, at the core of the RPG is the dice roll, and the dice roll generates randomness to simulate chance -- that's fine. This concept crosses a line, however, when you start balancing vital elements of the game on the randomness of a dice roll. If, when you enter a generic random battle, there's a set chance that you will die and game over no matter what you do -- I'm looking at you, Persona 4 -- that is bad, bad game design.

Randomness in games clouds the perception of a lot of things, including difficulty. I'll use one of my favorite games as an example, Star Ocean 2: In the post-game dungeon, there's a chance you'll find a merchant on the 6th floor. A chance. He sells a few extremely valuable items, and it's worth the time to find him. The thing is, why is there only a chance? Why isn't he there all the time? If you're looking for the items, you're going to keep exiting the dungeon and re-entering until he appears, and if you're not, who cares, anyway? So what does the randomness of his appearance accomplish? Nothing. It doesn't accomplish difficulty and it's a waste of your time.

ff12 is haaaaaard

I guess some gamers undervalue their own time because they have too much of it on their hands. I know I do. We shouldn't, though -- time is all we have, and it pisses me off to no end that game designers have no qualms about wasting huge chunks of it so they can trick you into thinking their games are hard, or clever. I don't know if developers realize this, but there's nothing to gain from using things like random chance and arbitrary design choices to keep people playing the game longer (unless it's an MMO, but that's a whole other story). It doesn't matter if people play for 10 or 50 hours, they still get the same profit. In fact, the game would probably sell and review better if they didn't bullshit around with these kinds of archaic concepts.

Getting back to the original point, Dragon Quest has always been all about grinding. Dragon Quest VIII was a very grind-intensive game; things just rolled over you if you didn't take time to level up and get all the new equipment at every new town. That grinding took a long time, too; shit was expensive as hell. How is DQIX going to be "harder" than DQVIII? Is it going to be even more grind-intensive? If the lack of wifi multiplayer and single save slot weren't enough to turn you off from the game, surely this should do it. Sadly, this is Dragon Quest, and pretty much every country that's not America will be all over it regardless of how much it sucks -- and it has always sucked. People love to parrot Japan when it comes to games, and Japan loves DQ because it's tradition. You know how it goes.

battle toads is haaa... wait.

Knowing that JRPGs are not difficult by both nature and design, I don't see how you can perceive Yuji Horii's statement as anything other than "enjoy lots and lots of grinding, you'll buy it anyway." I doubt I'll be buying the game -- this announcement has completed a painful trilogy of Square-Enix uppercutting me squarely in the junk. I'll never bear children. Someone get me some ice, I need to lay down.

At least it doesn't have random encounters.

-Jibril | LJ

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A quick thing about E3 by Jibril

Alright, here's the thing about this year's E3.

Last year's E3 was so unspeakably terrible that it couldn't have gotten any worse. E3 2008 was the worst video game-related expo that I can remember.

With that in mind, be glad that all three major competitors announced games. Like, real games.

I've heard the most braintarded complaints about the conferences in the hours since Sony's ended today. Here's some of the highlights.


-Natal is gimmicky!

So is the wiimote. This kind of shit isn't meant to appeal to you, it's meant to appeal to soccer moms and old people. It's for selling consoles.

-Milo looks boring! It's not even really a game!

You're right. It's a tech demo for Natal, dingbat.

-That new Metal Gear looks lame!


What? Did you see a gameplay video somewhere? They didn't even talk about how it plays. There aren't even any screenshots. God, you're an idiot.


-Nintendo is just rehashing their old games!

Uh. Okay, I don't know where to start.

First of all, the main target of this complaint is probably Super Mario Galaxy 2. The funny thing about that is, saying it about that game implies that there have been significant changes to each 3D Mario game. I hate to break it to you, but there hasn't. Just because you tack a subtitle onto a sequel doesn't mean the game is radically different from the last one. Sunshine played exactly like Mario 64, with a couple moves replaced with F.L.U.D.D. functions. Aside from that small change, which resulted in very little departure from the feel of the game or its structure, there wasn't much of a difference between them aside from the graphics and the setting.

Galaxy was another step up from Sunshine, but you know what? Mario still controls exactly the same as he did on the N64. The structure of the game is still nearly identical -- you collect big shiny objects from isolated worlds connected to a single hub world. Super Mario Galaxy was unique because of the way it explored the concept of gravity and spherical worlds, not because the gameplay itself was changed. Moreover, there's a lot more to explore there -- it's only natural that they'd want to make a sequel when they feel they didn't fully explore the central concept of the original game.

It's not like there's no new features in Galaxy 2. There will be: we've already seen Yoshi and that crazy drill thing, and there's sure to be a ton more where that came from. In effect, Galaxy 2 is just as relevant as an entirely "new" 3D Mario title is. It's going to take a step up from Galaxy, just like Galaxy did from Sunshine and Sunshine did from 64. Too many people put too much stock in what a subtitle means. Learn to think.

If someone out there is actually saying this about the new Metroid: uh, no. Watch the trailer -- no Metroid game... or game at all, really, looks or plays like that. It's being co-developed by Team Ninja, for christ's sake.

-No one cares about New Super Mario Bros.!

Obviously someone does, considering it's the second-highest selling DS game in the world. Considering the DS is also the highest selling console in the world, that's saying quite a bit.

It was a fun game. Playing it with friends seems like it would also be fun. If nothing else, it's an interesting experiment. You don't have to play it co-op if that's not your thing. Either way, it makes all the business sense in the world to make a Wii sequel. Money in the bank for Nintendo; if you don't like it, don't play it. Not that you have, which means any complaint you have is null and void. Hurr.

-What the hell is Golden Sun anyway?

You missed out on the two best handheld RPGs ever created. Go educate yourself.


I KNOW, MAN. Shigeru Miyamoto said that it is coming, though, and that he plans to announce it formally next year. Be patient. Zelda always takes a while -- that's why its quality is so consistent.


-Final Fantasy XIV is an online game?! Why ;_______;

Oh shut up. The number next to the game doesn't mean anything. Yeah, FFXI probably should have been called FF Online. FFXIV should probably be called FF Online 2. They're not, but it also doesn't matter. If you think this is going to make FFXV or whatever come out later than it was already going to, you're sorely mistaken. The teams that work on the main series and the online games are completely different -- they work on games simultaneously.

If you're one of the people who wants to hate on it because it's cool to hate on Square-Enix's MMOs: you're about three years late to the party. FFXI, for the most part, is a pretty good game now. It still has drop rate issues and two boss enemies that are near impossible to kill, but overall it's not a bad way to waste time. You can use that time more efficiently in WoW, but if you're one of those people who can't stand WoW's art style or something, FFXI is fine.

The FFXI team has learned from their mistakes, and if they keep that knowledge in mind, FFXIV will actually be good from the get-go. If.

That's actually the only real complaint I heard from Sony's conference... that I can remember, anyway. Sony's lineup is rock solid.

In summary: The people who believe any of this shit need a tall glass of shut the fuck up and stop trying to menstruate all over games other people will enjoy.

-Jibril | LJ

Thursday, May 14, 2009

IRC Shit

Oh wow, I completely forgot about this.

A little while back, Phil and I were talking about posting insightful discussions we'd had in IRC (#scurvyworms at port 49233), just because we get into some interesting stuff sometimes.

Phil actually sent me a txt file with a few quotes in it, and I just completely forgot about them and never posted them. So, here they are.

IRC Shit #1: Ichimonji, Jibril and Mirage discuss Final Fantasy X and XII

[13:41] [~Ichimonji> i forgot how fucking awesome and addictive FFXII is
[13:43] [~Jibril> yeah man
[13:44] [~Ichimonji> i think when i lost it and went on that rant a couple months ago about the game was because i was in the ogir and nam-yensa sansea at the time
[13:44] [~Ichimonji> and it's the lamest area of the game
[13:44] [~Ichimonji> and at that point there really isnt too much to do
[13:45] [~Jibril> yeah that part kinda sucks
[13:45] [~Jibril> though i like it, purely because of the place you're in
[13:45] [~Jibril> i think it looks cool
[13:45] [~Jibril> but i'm also a sucker for desert environment
[13:45] [~Jibril> s
[13:46] [~Jibril> there's a huge desert on roak that i think i'll be crossing soon and i'm all psyched about it
[13:49] [~Ichimonji> haha
[13:50] [~Ichimonji> also, yeah it looks cool. but the length and how you maneuver through it is stupid
[14:06] [~Ichimonji> man, when you dont try to get 3 quickenings for 3 characters right off the bat, the game is pretty tough
[14:06] [~Ichimonji> well, to fight hunts and stuff
[19:17] [~Ichimonji> Mosphoran Highwaste -> Salikawood -> Phon Coast -> Tchita Uplands -> Sochen Cave Palace -> Archades
[19:18] [~Ichimonji> man. that's a the longest streak of fields/dungeons to get from one plot point to the next
[19:19] [~Ichimonji> that's the only part of the game where the pacing is really drunk.

[08:40] [~Ichimonji> man. FFX looks so low budget after playing FFXII
[08:47] [~Jibril> FFX did come out fairly early in the ps2's life cycle
[08:47] [~Jibril> and FFXII was like right at the end
[08:47] [&raiden> FF12's environment isn't as stellar
[08:47] [~Jibril> not artistically no
[08:47] [~Ichimonji> yeah i know, i'm not saying that it doesnt make sense
[08:48] [&raiden> not technically either!
[08:48] [~Ichimonji> i'd say the same if i was playing FFIX and then went back to play FFVII
[08:48] [&raiden> but characters look better in FF12
[08:48] [&raiden> and i find FF8s graphics to be better than FF9s
[08:48] [~Ichimonji> i find everything looks better in FFXII, even the environments
[08:48] [&raiden> FF9 has got too many details for the resolution
[08:49] [~Jibril> FF8 and FF9 were in development at the same time
[08:49] [~Jibril> there's only slight improvements in 9
[08:49] [&raiden> in many cases, FF9s details look like noise in the image
[08:49] [&raiden> unless you're stupidly close
[08:49] [~Jibril> but obviously there's a huge difference between 7 and 8/9
[08:50] [&raiden> 7 graphics suck
[08:50] [~Ichimonji> i bet it would look good on the PC. like how FFVIII looks amazing on the PC
[08:50] [&raiden> audio quality isn't too good either
[08:50] [&raiden> FF8 looks rotten
[08:50] [~Jibril> rotten? >_>
[08:50] [&raiden> cause the backdrops aren't re-rendered
[08:50] [&raiden> they make the 3d objects stick out a lot
[08:50] [&raiden> but in battle, it looks goood
[08:51] [~Ichimonji> that's true. VII and VIII's pre-rendered shit are horrible on the PC
[08:51] [&raiden> and CG movies are rerendered
[08:51] [~Ichimonji> but the character's are very smooth
[08:51] [&raiden> In ff8 they used direct 3d to smoothen it out
[08:51] [&raiden> but on FF7, not even that

[01:50] [~Ichimonji> the cool thing about FFX is that you actually feel like you're on an adventure
[01:51] [~Ichimonji> added by the fact that Tidus is basically the player. he's as new to the world as we are so whenever he's surpised by anything it's reflecting our feelings. so we can relate to him more
[01:52] [~Ichimonji> and that you have a set goal from the get go so it's like you're acomplishing something
[01:52] [~Ichimonji> also, FFX is like the most japanese Final Fantasy created
[01:53] [~Ichimonji> not just the look of the characters and some of the places and story elements, but how the characters react to things
[01:54] [~Ichimonji> it's more japanese than FFVII and they have fucking anime faces in that game as well as Wutai is japan.
[01:55] [~Ichimonji> i find that the FFX battles are really quick for a turn based battle system
[01:55] [~Ichimonji> it feels quicker than the ATB
[01:56] [~Ichimonji> probably because battles happen almost immediately and when you input your commands they happen right then and there too
[01:56] [~Ichimonji> now comparisons between X and XII
[01:57] [~Ichimonji> There are like no puzzles in FFX. Well, obviously you have your cloister of trials, but that's about it.
[01:58] [~Ichimonji> one thing i noticed in XII was that you do something new in almost every area, including towns. You're always doing these weird little puzzle things to advance in the story
[01:58] [~Ichimonji> with the exception of the phon coast and the mosphoran highwaste
[01:59] [~Ichimonji> although the pacing and narritive in FFX is pretty much perfect
[02:00] [~Ichimonji> they know how much scenes to give you and when you show them to you. the areas in FFX arent very long, but they feed you a healthy dose of scenes that you're content with that area
[02:00] [~Ichimonji> and not too long too
[02:00] [~Ichimonji> also, there is a lot more casual dialouge in X
[02:00] [~Ichimonji> the party really does seem like a tight group of friends/co-workers
[02:01] [~Ichimonji> whereas in XII it was all about the task at hand
[02:01] [~Ichimonji> it felt very straight and norrow
[02:01] [~Ichimonji> narrow*
[02:02] [~Ichimonji> of course FFXII is better than FFX in most aspects, there's no question
[02:03] [~Ichimonji> they handle exploration really well in XII.
[02:04] [~Ichimonji> i like the story in XII, but in retrospect it's actually extremely short
[02:04] [~Ichimonji> but everything that you do in that game is very long

IRC Shit #2: Tidane hates game designers

[23:16] [Tidane> a game programmer is a developer :(
[23:16] [Tidane> designers are just
[23:16] [Tidane> there
[23:16] [Tidane> to be useless and make crappy games.
[23:16] [~Jibril> a few years
[23:16] [~Jibril> and yeah
[23:16] [~Jibril> a designer is like
[23:16] [~Jibril> peter molyneux
[23:16] [~Jibril> shigeru miyamoto too
[23:18] [~Jibril> the guys who
[23:18] [Tidane> Programmers did it.
[23:18] [~Jibril> put their name on the cover of a game
[23:18] [~Jibril> even though
[23:18] [Tidane> Designers just take good ideas and turn them into shit
[23:18] [~Jibril> the programmers, artists, audio people etc
[23:18] [Tidane> or they take terrible ideas and make them worse.
[23:18] [~Jibril> did all the work
[23:19] [Tidane> I'm not even kidding about this shit
[23:19] [Tidane> designers are like
[23:19] [Tidane> Mac users.
[23:19] [~Jibril> the majority of what they do is just
[23:19] [~Jibril> sit around
[23:19] [~Jibril> and come up with shitty ideas
[23:19] [~Jibril> right
[23:20] [~Jibril> and then tell all the programmers to go make it
[23:20] [~Jibril> because I'M THE DESIGNER GUYS
[23:20] [~Jibril> or is that director
[23:20] [Tidane> It is more like
[23:20] [Tidane> Hey guys, let's do this.
[23:20] [Tidane> "That will not work for X, Y, and Z"
[23:20] [Tidane> But that's my artistic vision! Make it work
[23:21] [~Jibril> yeah
[23:21] [Tidane> Then people try to say a game has bugs
[23:21] [Tidane> but it doesn't have bugs
[23:21] [Tidane> (well, sometimes it does, but we ignore those times)
[23:21] [Tidane> it has designer wanting to do too fucking much.
[23:21] [Tidane> like the project I'm on now
[23:22] [Tidane> The Gold version of the game is due in August
[23:22] [Tidane> and the designers just keep saying "we should do this, we should do this"
[23:22] [Tidane> Yeah, how about we fucking get some of this other shit done you hairbrained monkey.
[23:22] [~Jibril> that is one thing that pisses me off
[23:22] [~Jibril> when games are compromised for the sake of some asshole's "artistic vision"
[23:23] [~Jibril> xenosaga has that written all over it
[23:23] [Tidane> It isn't just that
[23:23] [Tidane> designers are morons
[23:24] [Tidane> not in the sense that they're idiots
[23:24] [Tidane> they're like children.
[23:24] [~Jibril> like, everything has to be their way
[23:24] [Tidane> Yes.
[23:24] [~Jibril> even though it doesn't work from a developent standpont
[23:24] [~Jibril> standpoint*
[23:25] [~Jibril> see
[23:25] [Tidane> This thing is on the 360
[23:25] [~Jibril> a game has to be playable first
[23:25] [~Jibril> then you can think about whatever bullshit you want to throw into it
[23:25] [Tidane> and the designer keeps saying he wants to be able to edit a script to change "stuff"
[23:25] [Tidane> which I would say it ok
[23:25] [Tidane> if we were doing a goddamn PC title.
[23:25] [Tidane> but he has to have it
[23:25] [~Jibril> you mean like how pc games have console commands and shit?
[23:25] [Tidane> so we have to take extra weeks to track down something like Xlua
[23:26] [Tidane> xnua*
[23:26] [Tidane> and get that working
[23:26] [Tidane> Kinda.
[23:26] [Tidane> I'm trying to think of a game, hmm
[23:26] [Tidane> Well, ok
[23:26] [Tidane> Think of it like a configuration file
[23:27] [Tidane> so you can change things in that file
[23:27] [Tidane> to test gameplay without having to recompile the project
[23:28] [Tidane> The problem is the time it takes us to put this in, which will only be used for testing, is greater than the time saved using it.
[23:28] [Tidane> Idk, this project is going to piss me off for a long time.
[23:28] [~Jibril> what kind of game is it, anyway?
[23:28] [Tidane> lol, no idea.
[23:28] [Tidane> We've got a few ideas, but there's been no decision.
[23:29] [Tidane> One of the guys is pushing a game that would be no fun at all
[23:29] [Tidane> So I've been trying to push something that would actually be enjoyable.
[23:29] [Tidane> He wants some weirdass racing game
[23:29] [Tidane> I've been pushing for a physics-based platformer-esque game.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

this is me sick of things by Jibril

Oh god, not this again. (see: comments)


The console war is over. If you weren't paying attention, blu-ray won the format war. Otherwise, most of us who were watching came to the conclusion that, and I hate to burst your bubble: everybody is getting fucked in the ass this generation, regardless of what console you own.

Xbox 360 is plagued by faulty hardware.

Playstation 3 has a pitiful library of exclusive games and less than desirable online performance.

Wii has an even worse library of exclusive games (sadly, the non-exclusives are largely inferior versions of PS3/360 games), has worse online performance and the diabolically bad friend code system to wade through just to play with friends. Not to mention the mountains of shovelware.

Nobody is winning. Every time I hear someone say they "don't want [insert PS3/360/Wii exclusive here] to be on [other console here]", my skin crawls and my eyes burn crimson with the flames of the devil himself.


It doesn't matter. You know what would happen if Halo 3 was ported to PS3? I know it couldn't happen, because Microsoft owns the Halo brand, but really? Nothing. Nothing would happen. Bungie and Sony would make more money. Microsoft wouldn't lose anything; I know what you're thinking, but the game has been out for almost two years for the 360, they've sold enough god damn copies of the game, shut up.

This image has about as much to do with this post as console-exclusive games going multi-platform does to a negative impact on sales

If you somehow consider it "betrayal," please chug a full glass of bleach, right now. You are the problem.


If you're one of those fucksticks who cried and cried and cried about FFXIII coming to 360 because Square-Enix was somehow "betraying Sony," please tell me all about how Nintendo and N64 owners felt when Square abandoned them for Sony and their CD ROMs. I can only assume you call it "betrayal" when it's convenient for you and selectively ignore it when it's not. That's what I thought. Sit down, shut the fuck up and eat your cotton candy, short bus.

The worst part about people forgetting about this is that FFVII wouldn't have revolutionized JRPGs the way it did if it was on the N64. This is where some 30 year-old balding loser tugs on my shirt and says "BUT JIBRIL, FFVII IS OVER-RATED AND IT RUINED RAWL PLAYIN GAEMS."


Shut up. Without FFVII, JRPGs would never get published in America or Europe or anywhere but Japan anymore. Whether or not you like the game is largely irrelevant; it's not the quality of the game, it's the fact that it showed everyone how well JRPGs could sell in the western market.

There is no such thing as a game development company betraying a publisher, or a console. It's physically impossible for them to betray a fan base, even, because they didn't sign up for your loyalty. All they want is your money, stupid. It has always been that way, and it will always be that way. You can't go into game development with the attitude that you're going to create some kind of indie masterpiece that's just for the hardcore gamers and expect to get published. If you do, you can't expect to be making more games after that, because you almost certainly will not turn a profit and publishers will avoid your shit like Mark McGwire avoids talking about steroids.


It has always been this way, but it has become more blatant in recent years. You can blame Nintendo for this; for turning gaming into a mainstream thing. Isn't this what we always wanted, though? I despise the label of "hardcore gamer," but I probably am one, even if I hate it like Ian MacKaye hated to be called "emo." As a reluctant "hardcore gamer," I've always harbored sentiments like "I wish games were appreciated more." Well, now they are.

If you ask anyone who knows anything about music, they will tell you that none of the good stuff is in the "mainstream," regardless of which genre you're looking for. Games are getting there. You have to realize that the "hardcore" demographic is now a fairly small percentage of the whole picture. You know all the horrible shovelware on Wii that you chuckle at as you walk through your local game store? That's Nickelback, and Britney Spears, and Rhianna, and T-Pain. People eat that shit up; it's what grandmothers who have no idea what their grandkids want buy for them.

No, seriously. Equivalency. Killzone, Halo, Call of Duty? Slayer, In Flames, a million other meat head metal offshoot bands. The quasi-underground-but-not-really metal laced with instant gratification that everyone name drops when trying to bump their indie cred, and all the real mother fuckers laugh them out the door.

I've been quoted comparing Final Fantasy to Radiohead, and it's still perfect: in both cases, people love to comment on how they "used to be awesome" and then pinpoint the exact spot where it all "went to hell" -- FFVII and Kid A, respectively -- but open-minded people find amazing experiences in the works beyond.

Of course, it's still hard to compare the two in other ways, for the simple fact that a random person can't download a program, spend a couple weeks learning how to use it, then make a video game in a couple months. With music, you can do that. It goes without saying that games take far more effort, skills and time to create, especially considering the average music album is anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour long, and the shortest video games will give you upwards of 10 hours of play time -- the longer adventures shooting all the way up to over 100. I'm not going to tell you that video games are exactly like music; they're vastly different in nature. I shouldn't have to explain why. They are, however, becoming very similar in the aforementioned way.

I could go on, but you get the point: by lifting gaming up, this is what we've been reduced to. I'm cringing at my own pretense here; I find it disgusting to make these comparisons because it feels so god damn wrong. This isn't what we're supposed to be doing. This isn't what I'm supposed to write about. This is supposed to be what we wanted. I guess it's the circumstance that makes it so bitter: I always envisioned gaming becoming more exposed and people learning to understand it. Instead, gaming has changed in a way that gets everyone's attention. You know what that means: dumb it down, simplify, make it as unintellectual as possible.

So, look.

Every time you lose a game of Madden, call the other player a "cheap faggot" and throw your controller across the room, you're contributing to this. Every time you post on Gamespot kicking and screaming about your console being "betrayed," you're contributing to this. Stop it. If you assholes are so insistent on painting yourselves with the "hardcore gamer" label, do you really need to be at each other's throats like this? You're in the minority here, folks. Maybe you should do something positive instead of doing your best to alienate everyone who owns a console you don't have. If you don't want 80% of the next generation's library to be "Bratz Get Knocked Up on Prom Night," you'd better shape the fuck up and stop being a bunch of fucking babies.

lol u cant fit mgs4 on dvd guys

If you love MGS4 and your dusty ass PS3 so much, and Kojima decides to port it to the broke ass 360, this is how you react.

"Oh, cool, I'm glad Xbox 360 players will get to play one of my favorite games. I hope they appreciate it as much as I did. I'm curious as to how they'll overcome the storage issues, but if they can do it with FFXIII, I'd think they could do it with MGS4."

Anything else is wrong. Stop.

War's over. You lost.

-Jibril | LJ

Thursday, April 30, 2009

dear friends: a sermon on the subject of Final Fantasy V by Jibril

My favorite Final Fantasy titles are V, VIII, Tactics and XII. When I tell people that, most can understand Tactics, but they're usually a little puzzled by the other three -- V and VIII are usually considered the weakest of their generational trilogies, both occupying their respective middle slots -- and XII is mostly written off as "too different" from the rest of the series, which is a ridiculous notion considering the amount of evolution Final Fantasy has gone through over the years. I'm not going to be talking about that now, though; I'm going to focus on Final Fantasy V.

Sandwiched between FFIV and FFVI, FFV is sort of like the unfortunate and overlooked middle child to its younger and older siblings. It wasn't even released outside of Japan until 1999's Final Fantasy Anthology compilation, and was later enhanced and ported to the Gamebody Advance in 2006.

The most common complaint made about FFV is that its story is sub par. Sure enough, the story essentially pans out like FFI part 3 (part 2 being FFIII), involving four warriors inheriting the powers of the four elemental crystals and using them to destroy an evil that threatens the world. To put this in perspective, let's have a history lesson.


Until the PSX era, Final Fantasy developed in a very distinct pattern. Final Fantasy I was the story of four nameless heroes bearing the power of the crystals. It introduced many of the concepts and design aspects that are still used in the series today, taking heavy influence from Dragon Quest and, by extension, early western RPGs such as Ultima and The Bard's Tale. As the first game in the series, it didn't have an overly complex plot. Then again, no game did at that point, really, as storytelling was even more of an afterthought than it is now. Still, like any other NES game, you could say it was a gameplay-focused affair -- and I don't care what delusions Hironobu Sakaguchi had about creating a compelling narrative, because on the NES, it wasn't happening.

Final Fantasy II was more of an experiment. Aside from the obvious deviations in the character progression system, where your stats increased based on the frequency of certain battle actions rather than experience points and levels, it innovated the way dialog worked, allowing you to memorize key words during conversations and ask people about them to learn new information. Otherwise, though, the game was much more focused on the character-driven story than anything else; probably to save face if the experiments failed (which they did, horribly).

In Final Fantasy III, you start to see the pattern form. The story was extremely similar to FFI's, featuring four youths inheriting the power of the crystals. It returned to the more open, gameplay-driven style of FFI, introducing the job system, which was a genius way to implement character customization: essentially an improvement on the original FFI class system, you had four characters who could change their classes at will, rather than choosing four to start with and being stuck with them. There were also a ton of new jobs to choose from, with more being unlocked as you progressed through the story. Also new was the concept of multiple "worlds" existing on the overall map; in this case, you started the game on a large floating continent, and later, you left via airship and actually explored the much larger overworld.

Final Fantasy IV, predictably, was more like FFII: it was character-driven, focusing on the love triangle between Cecil, Rosa and Kain, and later, Cecil's relationship with Golbez, giving us the first real "aww snap!" plot twist of the series. For its gameplay innovations, it was the first game to lock your characters into certain classes and not give you any customization options, as well as the only game in the series to allow the use of up to five party members.


You can probably guess where this is going: Final Fantasy V is a continuation of FFI and FFIII. It utilizes the job system, focuses on deep, flexible gameplay, and uses the same story structure of four warriors using the power of the crystals. Though the plot is certainly more complex and nuanced than FFI and III, it's nowhere near the maturity and depth of FFIV or VI.

The job system is balanced and made more accessible, eliminating annoyances like stat penalties after changing jobs until you fight x battles. It also introduces the genius that is skill learning. If you get to a certain level in any given job, you'll learn its skills -- and you can equip one learned skill to any other job (two to the Freelancer job and three to Mime). White magic on a Knight, equip swords on a Black Mage -- pretty much anything you'd want is possible here, offering extreme levels of customization and replay value.

Totally not ABP grinding guys

So, why do I love this game so much? Well, an IRC quote can sum it up:

[01:06] [~Jibril> gameplay-wise
[01:06] [~Jibril> FFV is definitely my favorite ff game
[01:06] [~Jibril> by far
[01:07] [~Jibril> nothing else comes close :(
[01:07] [Mirage> yeahyou'reright
[01:07] [~Jibril> well, FFT does, but it's not as easy to pick up and play
[01:07] [~Jibril> and X-2, i guess
[01:08] [Mirage> X2 yeah
[01:08] [~Jibril> but FFV is just perfection of the job system

It's mainly the job system that does it for me, because honestly, when I think of Final Fantasy, the first thing that springs to mind is the job system. V and Tactics, two games that have essentially perfected it, are two of my favorite games, let alone two of my favorite Final Fantasy games. I've also played FFXI for upwards of five years, and that game uses the job system to great effect as well.

There's this intangible aura about the game that gives you a great feeling of adventure, like the game is less about the characters and plot, and more about you exploring the world within it. This, actually, is the same kind of feeling I get from FFI, FFIII, FFVIII and FFXII. Other games, too, like Star Ocean 2 and Tales of Symphonia. These are games that try their hardest not to pigeon hole you into playing the game a certain way, while maintaining enough structure to not let you feel utterly lost like you would in a game like Fallout or The Elder Scrolls. They have a very unpretentious feel to them; they're more concerned with letting the player run wild than telling a great story or making some kind of social commentary. This is the building block upon which all games should be built, as first and foremost, they're supposed to enjoyable to play. Sadly, not everyone seems to think this way.

It's disappointing that such an elementary concept is so rare in games, but I feel like most of my favorite games of all-time are developed with it in mind. They're the games that are not abrasive to play in the slightest; games you can always come back to and replay just because they're fun, familiar and make you feel good. If the game can make you feel like the adventure is yours and not the character's, as FFV proves, you don't really need a terribly complex, or even good, story. The only incentive you need to keep going is the simple fact that you'll see more of the game, and when a game is crafted as well as FFV is, it's completely worth it for that alone.

Another trait these games seem to share is a soundtrack that's very easy on the ears. Not necessarily good or bad, just easy to listen to -- this is something FFV has in spades, and it really brings a great sense of immersion to the game. Of course, FFV's soundtrack is certainly very good on its own, but the way it fits into the game and gives personality to its landscapes is exceptional. All three world map themes are absolutely perfect: the first, "Four Valiant Hearts," sounding appropriately adventurous; the second, "Unknown Lands," sounding ominous and dense. The final theme, "New World," sounds just like you'd expect: a combination of the two. You'd be surprised how often game soundtracks aren't done this well -- I play a lot of games where the music is so out of place that it almost hurts to listen to while playing, even if the music itself is fine on its own.

Though FFV looks like a slightly upgraded FFIV, the plot and characters are mediocre at best (though the recent GBA translation remedies this a bit with a fantastically humorous new take on the dialog), and most people overlook it in favor of IV or VI, I would argue that FFV has more personality than FFIV and more heart than FFVI. Looking at their whole packages, I would say that FFVI is a better game. However, I'll probably replay FFV throughout my life far more than either of those games.

First, you have to !Flip it over on its back

As for why most people overlook it, I dunno. I know that most people who play RPGs are astonishingly stupid -- the concept of gameplay being more important than story is a foreign one to many. Whatever -- I'll be over here playing games like FFV, Star Ocean 2, Grandia and Valkyrie Profile while they relive their angsty teenage years watching all their favorite animated movies with interactive interludes. They can keep it.

-Jibril | LJ

Thursday, March 5, 2009

broton bropedoes by Jibril

It's probably expected of me to praise Star Ocean 4 (I refuse to use its silly subtitle) as if it were the final seal on the rapture of video gaming. Star Ocean 2 and 3 are two of my favorite games ever -- my nick was shamelessly stolen from the former -- and I've logged, probably, upwards of 500 hours into those games combined.

I'll start off by saying that, as far as I'm concerned, Star Ocean is a trilogy that ended with "Till the End of Time." It was one of those rare examples of a series getting better as it progressed, peaking with SO3's innovative and intense battle system and its widely debated plot twist and ending. The best creations are polarizing. Some people hated SO3, others absolutely loved it. It struck a perfect chord with me, innovating aspects of battle systems no one else had the balls to change -- you could take MP damage, and sure enough, if it was reduced to 0, you died. The obligatory battle skills ("killer moves" in SO2) consumed HP rather than MP. Mages were made useful, their spells inflicting multiple hits and animating in real time. Everything brimmed with the balance of a well-made fighting game; even the "low tier" characters like Adray and Roger could be devastating when geared properly.

I almost feel like SO3 was perfect, actually. It brought some form of closure to the story, as ambiguous as it was, and the battle system was so utterly masterful that, looking back, a sequel was unnecessary.

Yet, here it is. Star Ocean 4.

Leading up to its release, I thought it would be amazing. Expectations were high, and all that. The screenshots were beautiful, the battle system looked like SO3 on meth, and the promise of commanding your own spaceship and traversing numerous planets throughout the course of the game seemed nothing short of epic.

The first thing I was disappointed with was the character designs, which everyone saw before release. They were bad. Like, "holy shit, this is worse than FFIX" bad. SO2 had fantastic designs, and though SO3's weren't as good, they were solid aside from Fayt and Sophia. Honestly, I can't think of a single character design in SO4 that amounts to anything beyond mediocrity.

Just a couple weeks before release, it was revealed that they'd be changing the UI and character portraits for the North American release. The UI change was fine; it looks very sleek and easy on the eyes, as opposed to the overly bright and clearly Persona-inspired Japanese version. What got me was the character portraits, which were changed from standard anime illustrations to quasi-realistic CG. I can only assume it was done to appeal more to a western audience. This has been debated among my circle of friends, and in a nutshell, my take on it is this: it's not going to help sales, because for every person who's stupid enough to buy a game based on what character portraits look like, there's going to be someone who doesn't buy the game because they were changed. If they were going to change it at all, they should have included an option for either style. It was a stupid move from both a business and artistic standpoint, and there's no excuse for it.

That's not even getting into whether or not you think it looks good. I think it looks absolutely god-awful, and I'll tell you why: the character designs are bad enough on their own, and they don't need the uncanny valley making them look worse. The safe haven of generic anime was their only saving grace. For the people saying "it fits the style of SO4 better than anime," no, it doesn't. Star Ocean has always been an anime-inspired game; changing that now is silly, and sure enough, it hasn't changed. Look at the in-game character models. They look like anime. Did they actually think that was going to get passed people who wouldn't buy a game if it looked anime-inspired? "Oh, this game sure looks like some weeaboo shit, but hey, the portraits are kind of realistic! I'm totally copping this." Happens all the time, I bet.

Of course, the portraits themselves also carry the same style as the in-game models and the anime art, except they look worse because they've been translated into 3D and then tweaked to look "realistic." Derp. I don't know whose decision it was, but they should be kicked squarely in the balls.

Oh, right, the game. I bought it on day one, and from the outset, once the beauty of the environments stopped impressing me so much, I slowly crawled to the conclusion that SO4 has no soul. Actually, that's not fair. It has a soul, it's just nothing like SO2 or SO3, and is also vastly inferior to both. This is purely from a presentational standpoint, though -- particularly the pacing and soundtrack.

Star Ocean 4 is paced like a retarded mule trying to carry four tons of bullshit across the Sonoran Desert. Unlike SO2 and SO3, where you spent a good amount of time hanging around town and getting to know your environment and NPCs, SO4 is constantly pushing you toward something else. Some of the dungeons are far, far too long; there's a whole segment on the first disc where you spend upwards of five hours in a single dungeon. Though you have a sense of freedom with where you can go, it's only there sometimes, as there's large chunks of the game where you're unable to leave whatever planet you're on, which is highly disappointing.

As alluded to before, each individual planet goes rather undeveloped in terms of its lore and predicaments. With around five to explore, and each one being fairly big (not nearly as big as SO2's Expel and Nede, or SO3's Elicoor, of course) and visually breath taking, there wasn't enough room to develop them beyond what they did. I wouldn't call it a "flaw," because other great games utilize a similar structure (hello KoTOR), but when your game's design team is saying things like "Star Ocean is about the world, not the characters," you'd think they'd put more time into developing a small amount of areas thoroughly, like in SO2 and 3, rather than many very sparingly.

Unlike the other games that use a similar structure of planet-hopping, there is no way to fast-travel back to your spaceship. If you want to do some private actions or partake in some item creation (why you must be on the ship to do item creation is beyond me, and is a huge, huge flaw), you have to walk all the way back, no matter where you are. This gets especially grating on disc 3 when the ship is crash-landed on the final planet, and you have to swap discs to leave, and swap back to return to your ship.

Yeah, some of the planets are actually stored on disc 1 and 2, but not 3. This means that if you want to go back to the earlier planets from disc 3, you have to swap. This is one argument I can see for "SO4 should have been on PS3," because it wouldn't have been a problem on blu-ray with mandatory installs. SO4 could have been two discs, probably, but instead, it's three, with the second and third discs gorged in cutscenes. Yeah, cutscenes. Long-ass, Xenosaga-style cutscenes. There's not as many as in XS, and they're skippable, but come on, this is Star Ocean. tri-Ace, what the hell is wrong with you? It's puzzling considering how little effort was put into the game's script... and voice acting... and um, plot, at least until the last few hours.

The soundtrack just further displays how tired Motoi Sakuraba is and how badly he needs a break from making music. While the battle theme is decent enough, it can't help the boring orchestral pieces that constantly bombard you when exploring the planets; they're so out of place and generic that they actually bog down the experience a bit. In Star Ocean, we're used to hearing Sakuraba bring out his moodier, more experimental side, and it just doesn't happen much here, opting for a "safer" sound that oozes mediocrity.

You could say the same for the whole game, actually. It's safe. All three prior games took a lot of risks, introducing new ideas and constantly improving. Gameplay-wise, SO4 doesn't feel like a sequel to SO3, it feels like a sidegrade. The battle system is certainly very good, but there's a lot of strategic elements of SO3 that are no longer present, such as the fury meter and MP damage. There are no "weak" and "strong" hits anymore, reverting to a more SO2-style system. It, actually, plays a lot like the PSP games, downplaying melee spam and emphasizing chaining your standard melee combo into battle skills, which can be chained together for bonus damage, similar to SO3. Also returning from SO2 is the four character party, which I am honestly indifferent toward by now; SO3 made three characters work so well that I didn't feel it was necessary to go back.

There's also the blindside system, which involves holding B and then hitting the left analog stick left or right at the right moment, triggering a flashy slow motion sequence where you quickly dive behind the enemy's back for free critical hits. It's fun, but almost every boss in the game has some kind of trick to beating them that involves using blindside. It cheapens the experience, because it becomes less about preparation and more about blindsiding as much as possible. It's hard to beat most bosses without doing it, in fact, because their defense is ridiculously high unless you hit their "weak point" which is usually located somewhere behind them.

Then you have some Tales-inspired attack system similar to mystic artes, except you can chain them together with other characters through quick-time events. Actually, it's more like quickenings from FFXII, I suppose. I rarely use it unless I'm dying and a boss is at low HP, or something. I didn't feel like it added much to the battle system.

Item creation has always been a big draw to the series, but even it has its problems here. As mentioned above, you must be on your ship to create items, a far cry from the freedom of SO1 and 2, where you could create things literally anywhere, and SO3, where you just had to be in a town with a workshop (most had them). You actually have to create a recipe before you can create an item, which seems like a pointless annoyance. The actual creation of items is improved, however, as you just gather the ingredients and make it. No dicking around with mashing X to get the right price or picking an ingredient and hoping you get what you want. Synthesis also returns, allowing you to customize weapons and armor as you see fit.

What's missing, though, is the incredibly deep inventor system from SO3, which I felt should have been integrated into the game somehow. There also seems to be less stuff to make in general, but that's just the feeling I get from what I've done with it and I could be wrong.

Another hallmark in Star Ocean has always been the ability to make choices that ultimately result in a different endgame party. In SO4, you're stuck with the same eight no matter what you do. No, Crowe never joins. He is to SO4 what Flynn was to ToV. It's especially disappointing after he whips out dual lightsabers (seriously) and fucking owns a group of soldiers the first time you actually meet him. Sorry, no badass characters for you. The only remotely "badass" character you ever get is Arumat, and he's just a stereotypical scythe-wielding dude who talks about death and the battlefield all the time.

Of course, you also have the obligatory post-game dungeons, which are probably really hard. I haven't tried them yet, so I can't comment much on them.

The feeling I get from SO4 is that, possibly, tri-Ace did not want to make this game. I also get the feeling that it would have been better on PS3, due to the much greater storage capacity of blu-ray discs, and being able to incorporate mandatory installs. There could have been more characters, more features, no disc swapping, etc. -- but there isn't, and I blame the 360 for that. I also blame tri-Ace for stuffing way too much cutscene into a game that no one expects a good story out of. Still, the main flaws of it are not console-exclusive, and honestly, unless they take a rather large change in direction, I hope they don't make Star Ocean 5. I'd rather see more original IPs in the vein of the original Valkyrie Profile or Radiata Stories. Star Ocean ended at 3, and this was unnecessary fan service that only stagnated the series.

Is it a good game? Yeah, it is. If you liked any of the past SO games, you should play it for the gameplay alone, which is still as solid as ever. Don't, under any circumstance, play it because you liked the story of any of the past games. It doesn't have the epic, detailed shit that made SO2 awesome, and it doesn't have the daring, existential tone that SO3 had. It's safe, by the book, and won't turn any heads. It even seems to lack the trademark Star Ocean atmosphere for a more generic and sci-fi Star Trek feel, which is strange to say because SO has always been influenced by Star Trek.

Funny how that works.

-Jibril | LJ

Monday, February 23, 2009

Let's Talk About Games: The Sony Consoles, pt.2 - Flower, LittleBigPlanet & Fallout 3 by Ichimonji

Playstation Network


I didn’t really know what to expect when I purchased this game. I’ve never played flOw, so I don’t know much about the type of games Thatgamecompany creates, but reading about Flower I had only heard good things. It looked arty and innovative, yet simple in concept. I was intrigued. Despite all of this though, I did have my doubts. I found out that you can only play the game by utilizing the SIXAXIS functions, so I immediately thought that Flower was going to be gimmicky with awkward controls. Also, after viewing a bunch of screenshots I actually didn’t think it looked that good. I don’t know what all the fuss is about, I thought. Well, I bought it, played it, and completed it, and now I know.

Flower is actually a very wholesome gaming experience and I never expected that I would enjoy it so much. It’s definitely a title where you need to play it first hand before you can appreciate it, and no amount of screenshots or gameplay videos will do it justice. The premise is simple. There are six levels and in each level you start with a single flower petal. You control a singular breeze with by holding down any button on the controller and changing directions with the SIXAXIS. Your goal is to bloom as many flowers as you possibly can in order to advance through the areas. It’s simple. However, there is a lot more depth to this game than just that. About half way through Flower it takes a turn for the unexpected. I never thought I’d have to say this for this type of game, but I’m going to be discussing spoilers in the rest this article, so if you don’t want the big Flower twist to be ruined for you then skip over this section.

Before I get into the underlying plot of this game, I want to talk about some of the technical aspects. The art direction for Flower is amazing. The colours are so vibrant and the setting is very relaxing. The reason I said that screenshots cannot do it justice is because you need to experience it yourself. Most of the locations consist of vast fields of tall grass reminiscent of a beautiful countryside, and when you blow through the blades, everything moves. Every single blade of grass. It’s the most lively setting that I’ve ever experienced in a videogame. It feels like you’re disconnected from reality and you’re drifting through a beautiful dream world. I would go so far as to say that Flower is an excellent stress remover. After a long day of work or even a long session of Gears 2, play Flower. I guarantee that you’ll feel good. It’s a masterpiece and it’s a good example to prove to the public that videogames are indeed an art form.

The SIXAXIS works really well. In fact, I couldn’t imagine playing the game without that function. It certainly wouldn’t be the same experience if you had to control using the analog sticks. It just works. It’s probably the only PS3 game that actually uses the SIXAXIS functions really well. I also like the fact that you can pick any button to hold down in order to make the wind blow faster, so you can play according to your own preference. I personally palmed the controller like if I was screwing in a light bulb while holding down one of the top buttons. Sony really loves these simple, yet extremely fun games, a la Locoroco and Patapon.

At the beginning of each level up to a certain point in the game; you’re shown a short clip of what’s happening in a bustling city street. It reminds you about how hectic or bleak reality is and then it immediately takes you into the relaxing world of Flower. When you eventually get to the fourth level the setting starts to change. As you’re playing through the level the sky turns pitch black and ominous music begins to play. These strange electrical structures start to protrude from the earth while the aura feels like you’re suddenly in a post-apocalyptic future. This totally caught me off guard. It’s a bit frightening as well. At first I thought I somehow did something terribly wrong, but then the next level showed up and I realized that this was part of the game. For the rest of the game afterwards you’re venturing through the eerie darkness of an abandoned metropolis. You can also get damaged as well via electrical wires or structures falling on top of you. By the end of the game you turn the metropolis back into a beautiful field using the power of nature, while in the real world you realize that nothing has really changed. This is possibly one of the craziness twists I’ve ever seen in a videogame, just because it was so damn unexpected. It sent chills down my spine. It was amazing and I loved it. I’m sure there’s some kind of hidden message to humanity within Flower but I’m not one for putting too much thought into reading in-between the lines, so I’ll save that for you extremists out there.

Flower isn’t that long of a game as each level is no longer than ten minutes or less and there are only six levels, but this is the type of game that you can play over and over again. Even the credits at the end are part of the game. The only thing that is out of place in Flower are the trophies. As much of a trophy fanatic as I am; I do understand that the trophies kind of ruin the experience. They take a game that is meant for you to play casually and make you feel warm inside and somehow transform it into a frustrating experience. It’s actually only one trophy in particular that does this. In the fifth level there is a trophy for completing the area without getting hit by anything at all. This is actually moderately difficult to do. I ended up getting the trophy, but it did take me quite a few tries. I recommend just playing the game all the way through without trying for any of the trophies and then come back later to get them all once you’re done.

Downloadable content just keeps getting better and better. Flower, Braid, and LostWinds are some of the most fun and unique games I’ve played. Dear future, please keep releasing games like these.

Playstation 3

LittleBigPlanet Metal Gear Solid 4 Level Pack

LittleBigPlanet is an awesome game, and I played the shit out of it. In fact, I’m only missing two trophies. Or so I thought. I was looking through my trophies the other day and found that ten new trophies were added to the list, so I looked them up. It turns out that Media Molecule released a Metal Gear DLC pack. It was only like five bucks to purchase and it gave me an excuse to play LittleBigPlanet again, as well as the fact that I adore Metal Gear Solid 4, so of course I got it. I am baffled by the fact that I hadn’t heard about this DLC until now though.

The levels themselves are pretty fun. You take your Sackboy through five MGS4 themed stages, along with two bonus levels. Music is taken directly from MGS4 itself. They try to maintain the feel of MGS4, but it’s still very cutesy. When you begin, you’re introduced to a new weapon called the Paintinator and it basically acts as your M4 Custom for this offshoot. If you’ve ever wondered what a platformer stealth crossover would feel like, this is probably the closest that you’ll get since both elements are present. The trophies are pretty difficult to achieve; it requires a bit of skill to get them all. Most of the trophies are either speed based or completing a level without dying.

All in all it’s a pretty cool pack and worth the money. The structure of the levels is pretty clever and they’re moderately long too. I’m glad that they finally released something that isn’t costumes for LBP. I’d recommend spending your bones on this rather than any of the other content that MM has released.

Fallout 3

I’m not going to go into much detail on this game right now as I’m not very far. Instead, I’ll make a lengthy post about it once I’ve completed the game. I’ve only finished a couple story missions and a few side missions after leaving the Vault since buying this game. Admittedly, I haven’t played much of it at all recently. I’ve been caught up in all of my other videogames. I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with the game (with the exception of some obvious glitches), I just haven’t gotten around to playing much of it. I actually think it’s very addictive and I’m sure that once I start playing it again that I’ll be hooked once more.

So far though, I’m really likely the feel of this game. I enjoy the futuristic nuclear wasteland of Washington D.C. yet still maintaining the style of propaganda from World War II. I’m also pretty intrigued by the concept of the storyline and desperately want to know what’s up with my father (who is voiced by the amazing Liam Neeson). From the moment you leave Vault 101 the world is your oyster. You can pretty much venture anywhere you want and do a million hours of side events if you choose. Most of the mechanics are extremely similar to Oblivion. It’s pretty much Oblivion with guns. You can shoot in real time, although it doesn’t feel like a shooter. It’s an RPG through and through. Primarily because every creature has stats and levels and it’s less about relying on skill and more about leveling up and obtaining better gear. A lot of the people you interact with have really quirky personalities, and the world is full of freaks. It’s definitely an interesting game.

I’m going to stop here because I don’t want to delve too much into the aspects of this game; I’d have nothing to talk about in my future post about Fallout 3 if I did so. I’m also not far enough to even understand a lot of the elements that this game has to offer. But yeah, so far I’m really enjoying it.


I was going to write about my experiences with the Resident Evil 5 and F.E.A.R. 2 demos, but I plan on buying F.E.A.R. 2 really soon as well as playing RE5 once that comes out. So I’ll just note my impressions of both of those games once I do so.

~ Ichimonji | LJ

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Let's Talk About Games: The Sony Consoles, pt.1 - Burnout Paradise by Ichimonji

Playstation 3

Burnout Paradise

Before discussing the actual contents of this game I just want to point out how cool it is that I can download the entire game and all of its DLCs in one package on the Playstation Network. Which is, of course, exactly what I did. Just to clarify, Burnout Paradise is a retail game, but you can also download it if you wish on the PSN. I actually debated about this for a little while because I adore my collection of retail games and I love having my collection on display. Although, I was persuaded into this method for two reasons: I didn’t have to go to a store to purchase it (see: laziness), and it’s automatically saved to my hard drive so I can instantly switch between playing Burnout and a disc formatted game.

Another thing that’s really cool about Burnout Paradise is that it’s only $19.99. That’s astounding. If you’ve played this game, you’ll understand that it’s easily worth a $50-60 investment. I mean, I see games out on shelves like Alvin and the Chipmunks for PS2 and WarioWare: Smooth Moves selling for $30 or $50. That’s ludicrous. Yes, I know WarioWare is actually a really good game. I’ve played a lot of it. However, taken directly from Casey’s mouth “It could easily be a downloadable game” and it’s not worth $50. With the amount of content in Burnout Paradise, they’re basically giving you this game.

Anyway, let’s talk about what you can do in this fantastically affordable title. In this installment they pretty much changed up the entire Burnout formula. It’s now a sandbox title where you can cruise around a massive city and take on whatever missions or challenges you choose. There are a ton of things to do at any given moment. Firstly, you can complete the events, which range from timed, skill, speed, or racing challenges. There are 120 of them around Paradise City, and every time you complete one, it adds a notch to your driver’s license. You start your license with a learners permit and you work your way up the grades from D to A until you get your Burnout license, in which you’ll have beaten the game. By “beaten” I mean that’s when the credits roll, I don’t mean that’s all there is to do, but I’ll come back to that later. When you complete a certain amount of events you’ll get a notification that a type of vehicle is driving around the city. When this happens you can choose to find it and take it down in order to forever obtain it. This is how you get the majority of your vehicles. The other way to get vehicles is to meet certain requirements, for instance, getting a license upgrade will give you a new car which will be left in your junk yard. If you don’t feel like doing events, you can go and find the majority of collectibles, such as: billboards, yellow fences, and super jumps.

As I mentioned earlier, Paradise City is pretty big. It’s beautifully designed too. It’s divided into five different districts going from such scenery as the heart of the city, the port, the country and et cetera. You can tell that they took their design from many popular real life cities. I’ve noticed similarities to New York (what a surprise, right), Vancouver, Madrid, and I’m sure some part of Texas. It all looks very detailed and just simply well crafted. I found that the construction was perfect and I could just enjoy myself by cruising around and finding new areas. Although you can totally tell that the city was created for the sole purpose of stunts and drag racing as there are jumps, broken freeways, and conveniently structured roads scattered everywhere. Paradise City isn’t nearly as big as Liberty City from GTAIV, but it’s definitely big enough to get lost in. Oh, and while I’m on the topic, the graphics are amazing as well.

If you’re a big Burnout fan and you’re wondering “Man, this doesn’t sound like Burnout at all”, well don’t you worry, because it still has Showtimes. At any point in time you have the option to press L1 and R1 at the same time which will seamlessly switch into this mode called: Showtime. Once you’re in this phase your goal is to crash into as many cars as possible by repeatedly tapping the X button as you guide the direction of your car. It’s definitely a lot easier and faster to rack up the points in this installment, but then again they’ve also changed the entire scheme for this game, so it kind of fits with the pace. Also, when you crash your car at any given point in the game, whether it be a Showtime or not, it is absolutely awesome. The crashes are so brutal; it’s kind of a good thing that there are no people driving the cars.

Every car has their own unique time trial to complete. After you’ve done so, you’ll be awarded an upgraded version of that type. There are 75 different vehicles to attain, not including the DLC packs. Every car is classified in one of three ways: stunt, speed, and aggression. I think those categories speak for themselves. I personally prefer the Speed class cars, because they’re the only ones that can do burnouts, the handling is amazing, and they are, well, fast. The aggression types might be strong but they can’t turn corners worth shit. I don’t really have anything against the stunt type cars; they’re just not fast enough. I like ‘em fast. In addition to all these cars you can also choose a few motorcycles to ride on, however, the game is served to you with an entire different style if you’re going with this. With bikes, you can’t do any events; you’re pretty much just limited to beating the fastest running time per street, called a Road Rule. You can still collect whatever you want around the city though. If you’re a fan of getting trophies then I wouldn’t recommend touching the bikes until you do all the trophy requirements for the cars, because it seems that a lot of trophies are glitchy in this game. Criterion really needs to sort that out.

If you bored of the single player stuff, you can also go online with up to eight players and do some co-op events or challenges. There are 490 regular and timed events to do online, and they actually mix it up, so you’re not just doing the same thing over and over again. That’s the best part; it’s not really repetitive. Of course you don’t have to just do events; you can race with each other, or do a variety of games like: Marked Man (cops and robbers) or Stunt Run. You can also just compete for high scores for like barrel rolls and air time and things like that. It’s great fun. I actually think that the online aspect is one of the strongest areas of Burnout Paradise.

So, how long does it take to get your Burnout License and ‘beat’ the game? Probably about 16-18 hours if you’re not doing anything else. But you’ll most likely be doing other things; if you’re not then I don’t think you understand the concept for this type of game. But anyway, once you’ve gotten the license, they immediately give you the option for try for the Burnout Elite License for even more cars and etc. This is literally a game that keeps on giving. Not just for that reason, but because Criterion keeps releasing these DLC packs. A little while ago they released the Party Pack for $7.99 where you can play with up to eight players locally (not online) and pass the controller around while you compete with each other by performing various mundane tasks. It’s fun, yes, but I don’t think it’s worth $7.99. I bought it anyway because of the crazy amount of easily attainable silver trophies that you can get (I’m a trophy whore). I forgive them for this though, because the actual game is only $19.99. Another pack that they just released only yesterday is a set of four legendary cars for $1.99 each except for one which is $3.99. I bought two of the $1.99 cars. One was really shitty and I immediately regret buying, but the other, the Nighthawk (Speed class of course), is amazing. I use the Nighthawk for everything and it was a breeze to get all the trophies with. That one is my baby and totally worth two bucks. I think the $3.99 car is a hover car or something crazy, but I personally don’t feel that any single vehicle is worth four dollars.

Of course though, this is a videogame and no videogame is perfect. There are always faults. First of all, the censorship in this game is ridiculous. I mentioned before that there are no people in the cars. There are actually no people anywhere. It kind of feels like the movie Cars, except the cars don’t speak. And they don’t look childish. And they crash into things all day. When you look at the city in this perspective, it all seems so bleak. It’s a good thing that you have a human radio DJ that speaks to you from time to time to remind you that there’s life in this fair city. Apparently the reason for this is because Criterion didn’t want to show people what it would actually look like in a real car crash. The censorship doesn’t stop there. They bleep out the album name in Avril Lavigne’s ‘The Best Damn Thing’. Yeah, ‘damn’ is a swear according to this game. Damn is a word that is carelessly passed around in Saturday morning cartoons for gods sake. It’s kind of hard to take in all of the ‘cool attitude’ vibe that they send out seriously, when they have to censor themselves so much. Speaking of Avril Lavigne, the soundtrack is pretty bad. For starters, you don’t have that much of a selection. There are less than forty songs that are extremely oddly matched which no radio DJ should ever have playing on the same station. It especially sucks for people who only enjoy one or two genres of music, because they literally only have one or two songs per genre. It’s weird. It’s like they tried pleasing everybody by adding every style of music, but ended up just adding nutmeg and cyanide poison to mushroom soup. They added some Saosin and Killswitch for people like me, then it goes too some catchy beats which I don’t mind like N.E.R.D. and The Styles, and goes directly into classical music, which they play for like fifteen songs in a row. Again, it’s weird. Other than that, it’s all good. Sometimes certain events can get frustrating, but you can quickly solve that problem by switching cars.

Well, you may or may not know, but I received my first platinum trophy via this game just today. It turns out that you don’t need all of the bike trophies or the online trophies in order to get it. I’m not sure what exactly you need, since I had thought that the bike trophies were part of the original trophy line-up, but it was far less than I had imagined. This makes Burnout Paradise the easiest to get platinum in my mind. I had thought that the easiest was Prince of Persia or Uncharted, but both of those games require multiple playthroughs and you can easily get the platinum in Burnout in about twenty hours. It was definitely really fun to obtain though. I’m not even close to being done with this game too. I still feel the need to get some of the extra trophies and do the online challenges. Anyway, I think I’ve talked about everything I want to in the Burnout front. So yeah, I like this game. A lot.

~ Ichimonji | LJ

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

a wise man once said, "fuck 'em if they can't take a joke" by Jibril

Why isn't it more like Chrono Trigger? Why are there so many characters? Why is the plot so confusing?
Man, I hate this game!

Here's a statement I can't back up with any amount of factual evidence: most gamers probably aren't artists in any capacity, or at least in the field of writing stories or anything that involves the written word. If they are, most probably aren't very good at it. Most of the people who plan, direct, produce and write video games, on the other hand, are. I'm not going to sit here and say you have to be an artist to critique one, but I have to ask -- especially when so many people miss the point of Chrono Cross entirely -- who are you to judge them?

I think it's a problem of expectations. Chrono Cross is not Chrono Trigger pt. 2. The team that created it is different from the original CT dream team. The members who remained, namely Masato Kato, probably didn't want to make the same game twice. I think the goal was to take Chrono Trigger -- something that was ultimately simple and light-hearted -- and make it into something more serious and complex, while building a new story on top of the existing lore that didn't necessarily draw from the same influences. It was supposed to be something different. I always felt they succeeded in this, because it's one of the darker and more complicated (overly so at times; Xenogears rubbing off) games I've played. Still, it's far from perfect, which is what I'm going to discuss here. That, and ways it could have been better.

What Sucks: Gameplay

a. The broad side of a barn

Chrono Cross's gameplay is, for the most part, very good. There are a few very strange and bizarre problems, though, that bring the game down a bit.


The first is your hit rate. In battle, much like Xenogears, you divide your attacks into combos consisting of weak, medium and strong attacks. You have a set hit rate for each -- weak hits are more accurate, strong hits are less so, etc. -- and connecting on any of them will raise the hit rate for all three for the remainder of the combo. The problem? The hit% displayed is flat-out incorrect. You'll routinely miss three hits in a row with 70+ hit rate. Missing is common at 90+, even. There's probably someone on GameFAQs, or somewhere, that has figured out the exact cause of this, but here's my theory: I believe the game calculates those hit rates before checking the evasion rate of the enemy. So, when you think you're going to be hitting 90% of the time, it might actually be closer to 70-80%, depending on the enemy's evasion. Frustration commences.

b. Serge is Superman, Batman and The Flash put together

Marcy hates Serge because he is fucking OP.

Main characters in RPGs are usually at least one of the most powerful characters in the game. Chrono Cross takes this and runs with it. The problem lies within its unique, but flawed leveling system: you don't have experience levels, but rather, each time you defeat a boss, you get a "star level" along with some stat upgrades. Between bosses, when you fight standard enemies, you'll get small max HP upgrades (usually +1 or 2) at the end of every battle, up until you get a "mini-level," in which you'll get a boost to a number of stats. This is the only time your base stats will go up outside of gaining a star level, and it's a fantastic way to discourage grinding because it only takes a few battles to get them. The first issue is that if you miss the mini-level because you didn't fight enough battles between stars, you lose it forever, and you're permanently weaker than your max potential. The second issue is that anyone who's not in your party will miss out on mini-levels, so unless you want to rigorously grind for hours getting the level for every character (and again, there are a lot of them), you're going to have characters who are significantly weaker than the ones you commonly use.

So how does this translate to Serge being way stronger than everyone else? Because when Serge gets transferred into Lynx, he loses all his characters and has to recruit new ones (you get the old ones back when you get his body back). This is actually a significant chunk of the game we're talking about, and you probably gain around 15 star levels between Serge losing his body and getting it back. Therefore, he's the only character who gets every mini-level, or at least all the ones you bother getting. Naturally, he'll end up much stronger than every other character in the game. I suppose you might not consider this particular aspect a "flaw," especially as the game is pretty easy as it is, but with Sunglasses and the Mastermune, Serge does so much more damage than any other character in the game, it's silly.


Enemies can attack you in the middle of your combo. You'll hit once, twice, then they'll waddle over and slap you for 10 damage, which resets your accuracy, and you'll have to start over from default accuracy. This, coupled with the incorrect hit rate issue and long attack animations, is incredibly frustrating and draws battles out far longer than they need to be.


Fixing problem A is pretty obvious, so I won't get into that. B is a bit trickier. Well, maybe not: I think an easy way to fix it would be to have all characters gain mini-levels, even if they're not in your party. Even the characters who haven't joined you yet. In Chrono Trigger, non-party members leveled up with you, so I don't see why it couldn't be the same here. If anyone has issue with this solution (why you would, I don't know), you could just have it so mini-levels aren't missable, and you can simply grind for them after the fact.

Problem C is also pretty easy to fix, and goes hand-in-hand with fixing the accuracy issue. If your hit rate was actually shown correctly and your combos couldn't be interrupted, the game would be much easier to get into and infinitely less frustrating. Also, the ability to skip any and all attack animations would be amazing; though I know Square wouldn't have done this during the PSX era because they wanted to poke everyone's eye out with their flashy and phallic 3D effects.

You're probably thinking, "this isn't necessary, the game is really easy anyway!" Yeah, it is, but that's no excuse for your mechanics to be broken and your battle system to be unnecessarily long-winded. I do think the game's difficulty could be boosted, though; if you're a reasonably experienced player, the only battles in the entire game that will give you any trouble whatsoever are boss fights with Garai, Miguel, Dario and Criosphinx (the latter two being optional).

What Sucks: Presentation

a. Serge's Heroes

Don't forget to choose the correct dialogue options to recruit more characters who are inconsequential to the plot.

When looking purely at the narrative, plot structure and characterization of it, Chrono Cross is a deeply flawed game. The reason for this is quite simple, and is easily the most common complaint against it: there are far too many characters. Did Turnip really need to be in the game? Really? There's not many games where you could hack off half the cast and have there be no effect on the overall plot. You can't even say that about Suikoden, because a large amount of those characters are clearly defined and have real roles in the large battles -- those that aren't at least provide you with silly mini-games or shops for the castle -- Chrono Cross, quite literally, has anyone who's not in your party sitting on the sidelines waiting to be picked up.

It's also a well-known tidbit that Guile was originally supposed to be Magus. This backstory was cut out of the game due to the difficulty of representing it among so many other characters.

b. You look like a hero, let me fight with you!

To go with this issue, most of the characters in the game join you for the most random, sometimes non-existent reasons (see: Luccia). This is a problem in any game with large amounts of characters, because finding clear and believable motivation to join your group isn't easy when you have to do it so many times.

c. I know we just met, but let's break into a heavily guarded military facility and steal shit! Plus other awkward character interactions

Some of the plot advancements are poorly developed, as well. The headline for this section actually happens in the game: Kid suggests you break into Viper Manor because some of its Acacia Dragoons have been chasing you, and she wants the Frozen Flame (an ancient, powerful artifact). You've been traveling together for maybe a few hours at this point. Of course, you have no choice but to be like, "alright."

There's also several occasions where you'll bring a character into another dimension to see his or her other self, and neither of them are the least bit surprised. "Oh, this is me, from another dimension? Wow. You look just like me. I'm going to go back to idling now, because I'm an NPC."

Issues like this have a tendency to kill the immersion of a game. In fact, through much of the game, it seems like a lot of what you do is based on guesswork and loose ideas. When Serge gets transferred to Lynx's body, you're essentially told that you "may" be able to get his body back if you find the Dragon Tear (another artifact). Instead of asking around some more, you instantly go off and look for it. Of course, that ends up working, and everybody's happy... but, really? Why would you go ahead with that when it's the first thing you hear, and the one who tells you isn't even sure?

d. Guys, what's going on and why is all this water frozen? It's not cold out here.


As previously mentioned, Chrono Cross is a complicated game. It's not so much that the plot is hard to understand, it's that things aren't nearly explained well enough. Why is The Dead Sea frozen? Why is Leene's Bell in the middle of The Tower of Geddon? Why are the ghosts of Crono, Lucca and Marle chastising Serge and why are they all children? That's barely scratching the surface of things that happen in Chrono Cross that go largely unexplained. I don't know if it's too much disc space being wasted on the large amount of character quests or just laziness on behalf of the writers, but this does get annoying if you're the kind of person who has to know every detail of the story. Myself, though I do recognize it as a problem, I actually like the aura of mystery it gives to the game. I like that it doesn't hold your hand through the entire thing, and you never see those cutscenes where they reveal to you exactly what the enemy is plotting. Still, it goes overboard with reading between the lines -- reading a few articles on Chrono Compendium will confirm that to you -- and it borders on pretension, or laziness. Or both.

Solutions: Obviously, cutting a lot of characters out would solve three of these problems, and possibly the fourth. This would allow for more detailed interaction, more build up to plot advancement and less random. Here's a list of all playable characters in the game (from Chrono Compendium), with indicators showing who could be removed, etc.

(Underline=Did not need to join party. Strike=Did not need to be in the game at all.)

# Doc
# Draggy
# Fargo
# Funguy
# Glenn (Central character in the Dario sidequests. Also has a dual tech with Serge [X-Strike])
# Guile (1 of 3 branching path characters early in game; also add his Magus background story)
# Greco
# Grobyc
# Harle (Temporarily)
# Irenes
# Janice
# Karsh
# Kid
# Korcha
# Leah
# Leena
# Luccia
# Lynx (Serge in Lynx's body; temorary)
# Macha
# Marcy
# Mel
# Miki
# Mojo
# NeoFio
# Nikki (See Guile)
# Norris (Lends you his boat; wouldn't make sense if he didn't join you. Also cures Kid if you choose not to save her when she's poisoned)
# Orcha
# Orlha
# Pierre (See Nikki)
# Pip (Unique evolution growth)
# Poshul
# Radius
# Razzly (Choose between Razzly and Glenn in the second branch)
# Riddel (Central character in the Dario sidequests)
# Serge
# Skelly
# Sneff
# Sprigg (Unique Doppelgang abilities)
# Starky (Important for a quest late in the game to get into Terra Tower)
# Steena
# Turnip
# Van
# Viper
# Zappa
# Zoah

Here, we'd have eleven permanent characters (eight recruitable in one playthrough, branching paths and all); much more manageable, and allowing for much, much more backstory. One problem is that the innate colors would be a tad imbalanced; there would be only one red innate (Kid), and the two blue innates are pretty lame and you'd only be able to get one in a playthrough (Nikki, Pierre). There's also three whites, or four, if you count Pip (his innate changes depending on his form). You could add a couple more characters to remedy this, or just change the innate colors around; most of the characters in the game don't have clearly-defined innate colors, anyway. It's a small price to pay for vastly improving the quality of the plot. You could even add a more detailed tech system, more along the lines of Chrono Trigger -- while still retaining the element system, of course -- and add all those double and triple techs we've always wanted.

Now that we've discussed most of the flaws in the game, what about what it gets right? It gets a lot of things right.

What's Good: Gameplay

a. Floating along the arms of trees

Chrono Cross has two points in the story where the path branches, each one leading you into significantly different scenarios. While it doesn't change the outcome of the game much, it does at least give you options, which is more than you can say for most JRPGs. In fact, it's more than you can say about Chrono Trigger -- though it had a lot of sidequests, there was really no point in the game where you could go down an entirely different path, unless you were on a new game+.


You can flee from any battle in Chrono Cross, at any time, without fail. Even boss fights. You might think it's strange when you're in the middle of an epic fight, and you run away, and the boss is just standing there, waiting for you to re-engage it. The advantage is that if you fail to steal an item (you only get one chance; you can only steal once per fight), you can run away and try again. You can also run away if you're about to die. Why is this a good thing? Because it accomplishes the same thing that reloading or resetting does, without the hassle. It doesn't interrupt the flow of the game. It also allows you to not waste any time on battles that you'll gain nothing from, which you'll run into often with the leveling system that's used here.

c. They see me rollin', they hatin'

As in Chrono Trigger, you can see enemies on the field map. No random battles. Yay.

d. What the hell happened to my magic system?

The element system in Chrono Cross is pretty awesome. It works like this: You have a grid with eight different levels on it, each slot of which can be equipped with an element, which is just a fancy word for "magic spell." To use elements, you have to attack enemies in battle. A weak hit activates one level, medium two, strong three. So, to use a level six element, you'd have to do two strong hits, or three medium hits, etc.

What this does, is it emphasizes the importance of both physical attacks and magic. You want your attacks to hit and do sufficient damage, and you also want strong elements to finish the combo off with. I love this, because in so many games, magic is thrown in without any real thought put into it. They're almost always outshined by physical attacks, usually because of damage caps -- why cast one spell for 9999 when you can do a multi-hit physical attack for 7000 a hit? In Chrono Cross, you use both, and they're both effective. Balance!

e. Exploit weaknesses at your own risk

Lots of blue innate stuff down here, naturally.

The innate system is interesting. Each character has a color assigned to them. Their physical attacks and elemental defenses are based on their innate color.

White <-> Black
Red <-> Blue
Yellow <-> Green

So, red beats blue, but blue also beats red. This makes building parties for boss fights and such a bit more strategic -- you can build a party full of green innates for a yellow boss, but they'll also take much more damage than anyone else. More depth is always welcomed.

f. So I heard you like non-linearity and sidequests

Non-linearity is a dwindling aspect of JRPGs. It just doesn't happen much anymore -- I can only assume it's because gamers love to have their hand held through every second of a game. Chrono Cross has it, though. At any point in the game, you can usually explore one or more areas you don't have to go anywhere near until much later. There's usually treasure and secrets to be had, too. You can recruit Draggy a lot earlier than you think!

There are sidequests, too. Not a ton, but enough -- there could have been more with fewer characters, I'm sure. As they should, they provide the hardest battles in the game... though Criosphinx can be solo'd by Serge with moonglasses, a yellow plate and the Mastermune (he is overpowered as balls, seriously).

g. You got your dimension in my dimension!

The main selling point of Chrono Cross was its use of an alternate dimension in place of Trigger's time periods. I'm not sure if I like it better, but it does provide you with a very interesting perspective of the world with and without Serge (read), and is very telling of the nature of the game's artistic implications, even seeming to give you a look into the personal thoughts of the creators. More on that later, though.


New game+. It needs no introduction, really. Chrono Cross's version features a fast forward function that allows you to speed up gameplay, and like Trigger, you can defeat the final boss at almost any point during a NG+, revealing a whole bunch of alternate endings. Later in the story, with the help of the game's namesake, you can even transfer your character roster over from another save file. Great for those obsessive types.

What's Good: Presentation

Running out of morals for my allegory...

Chrono Cross is a joy to look at and listen to. It's one of the best-looking games on the Playstation, and is one of the finest examples of how pre-rendered backgrounds can make a game look absolutely beautiful. The backgrounds are hand-drawn, bursting with color and detail; I'd go so far as to say that it looks better than most current-gen RPGs. Certainly not from a technical standpoint, but on a purely artistic level, I really believe that.

Not to be outdone, Yasunori Mitsuda's soundtrack is one of the better game soundtracks ever composed. Following the theme of the game, it fits the more mature, dark and mysterious nature of it. There's not many "happy" songs on the OST; most of them convey feelings of melancholy, dread, mystery and sentimentality. The opening sequence perfectly embodies this, throwing a clusterfuck of ethnic instrumentation at the listener following an excerpt from Schala's journal -- which reads almost like a poem. I always found the lines "Yet even then, we ran like the wind/Whilst our laughter echoed/Under cerulean skies..." to be one of the most beautiful things I've ever read in a video game, and it was one of the first things that exposed me to the "art" of them.

The aspect of Chrono Cross that drove me to write all this, though, is all the little things the game references throughout the story that I didn't pick up on the first couple times I played it, years ago. Coming into my replay of it, I wondered a lot about what it was really about. I don't mean the story itself, but rather the statement it was making -- the art of it, if you will. So, I played the game very attentively, and actually picked up on a lot of themes that I never noticed before.

Of course, other games have had subtle messages like that before. What makes Chrono Cross any different from them?

It excels on the strength of its entire presentation. Everything about it: the music, the graphics, the atmosphere, the things its storyline entails; it's all done with such conviction and prowess that it leaves a lasting mark on anyone who delves deep enough into it. Whatever your opinion on the game may be, you can't deny that this is one of the finest atmospheric achievements in a video game, even surpassing Chrono Trigger.

So, what kind of themes are tucked away in the back pocket of Chrono Cross? The most obvious theme is probably one of regret, and "what if." With two dimensions to explore, you meet a lot of the same people twice, and you get to see how their lives are different between them. A proud fisherman in Home World's Arni is a sad, vaguely insane worshipper of a straw voodoo doll (Mojo) in Another World. Fargo is a ruthless pirate captain in Another, and a totally complacent milquetoast who has transformed his ship into one big tourist attraction in Home.

Perhaps the most interesting difference between the two dimensions is that, as far as anyone can tell, El-Nido is actually better off without Serge. Termina is free of Porre's occupation, The Acacia Dragoons are alive and kicking and Marbule isn't a ghost town. It's a departure from other games, in an indirect way -- usually, the main character is heralded as some kind of savior for the world, but in this game, it seems like most of the world would pretty much rather not have him around.

For the more inobvious, Chrono Cross is, mostly, about nihilism. It's evident in the themes presented by some of the characters: Leena talks about the ocean being here before and after her lifetime, as if her life is ultimately inconsequential to nature. Sprigg blatantly states that life is essentially pointless. The whole plot revolves around the idea that the lives of El-Nido's inhabitants -- in both known dimensions -- are at the will of a massive super computer known as FATE.

The overwhelming feeling of helplesness peaks in The Dead Sea, where you really see the effects of tampering with space-time -- the "time crash" which resulted in an entire chunk of existence being thrown thousands of years into the past and then frozen completely. A ruined, futuristic metropolis frozen in time, it's foreboding, surreal, and even a little depressing -- the enemies there range from lifesize mannequins who trudge around like zombies to ghostly beauty pageant contestants who float around in red dresses, destroying your party with high level magic spells after cordially introducing themselves and telling you about their hobbies.

Perhaps it's this kind of creative madness that makes this game so eye-opening when you play it with your full attention, accepting it as an artistic expression of something and not "just a video game." This, actually, is how you should play most games. I can't believe I'm saying this, since anyone who knows me knows that I can't stand games that try to get by on storyline and graphics alone, but I'm really starting to buy into the idea that a game doesn't have to have amazing gameplay to be something worth playing. However, it also has to be something special, artistically. It has to have a sense of purpose to it, like it was something the development team really wanted to make. Had to make, even. If you ever wondered why sequels are almost never as good as originals outside of video games, it's because there's less passion involved in the creation of them. Why it doesn't work that way in video games, is because you can take the framework of a game and make it better pretty easily. If you pay attention to plot and art direction, though -- those almost always get worse, if they're worked on by the same people.

It doesn't always start with the first entry in a series, either. Using Star Ocean as an example, the series' art direction and plot development quite clearly peaked with SO2, and has been going steadily downhill since. The gameplay keeps improving, however, so the series is validated. It's hard to keep creating story elements with the same conviction you once had when you're constantly being asked to write for sequels. Those things take time and thought.

This is also something I've had a lot of discussion with Phil about: there's games that tell good stories, and then there's games that are trying to say something, about life, society, politics or otherwise. Chrono Cross easily fits into the latter. What it's saying is uncertain even to me, but from what I can piece together, I believe it's trying to tell us that no matter what reservations you may have about the nature of your existence -- whether you're a nihilist or a devout Christian -- all you have to do is what makes you happy. That's all you're going to do, regardless of what anyone tells you. I think it's telling us not to worry about it, because everyone is the same in that way, whether anyone else chooses to admit it or not. We are a selfish kind.

That's how I interpret it, anyway. The fact that it made me think that much about it is reason enough for me to have great respect for the game despite its flaws. You might wonder how I can rip so hard on Xenogears and love this game so much, and the answer to that is actually very simple: because Xenogears feels like the emotional downpour manifested of a 16 year old's diary; Chrono Cross feels like the soft utterings of an old ex-poet now-philosopher sitting on a street corner in the middle of the night. I can't describe it in any other way -- if you don't get it, I can only shrug and say "oh well."

I believe this is the closest video games have come to making a true artistic statement. This is where video games should be heading as an artform. The world of gaming needs more of this. JRPGs don't seem to have any creative passion in them anymore. Chrono Cross seems to gives you that; a distorted look into a person's -- or perhaps a collective of people's -- heads. An honest and intellectual one, at that. Sadly, the Japanese are very secretive about their inspirations in that way, so we'll probably never know for sure.

It's pretty sad that they don't make 'em like this anymore. Who knows if they ever will again. If someone does, I hope Chrono Cross is still an example of what to and what not to do when experimenting with an existing franchise. For now, though, it sits as one of the most misunderstood and flawed displays of genius ever put on two CDs.

-Jibril | LJ