I started off this week by finishing The Last Story. That game’s certainly not terrible, and it does have its moments every now and then. As I felt last week, my favorite parts of the game ended up being the characters and dialogue. There were a select few moments that were done surprisingly well, and Mistwalker almost makes pulling off a strong narrative look effortless on a few occassions. The overarching story is pretty cliche though; it’s more the execution that’s done well, and even that’s mostly relegated to a handful of climactic moments. The rest of the time everything's kind of mundane.
Overall I didn’t get into The Last Story very much, which is primarily due to the passive nature of the gameplay that I talked about last week. It just feels like you need something else to do in combat. Full party controls, move moves and abilities, more enemy variety, or just flat out more interesting gameplay systems; these things could have gone a long way towards making the game infinitely more engaging. It’s weird too, because there actually are a number of systems in place, but they’re all so brainless and require little to no strategy. It creates this weird scenario where battles can feel kind of chaotic, but when you really break it down I beat 95% of them by simply mashing A. It’s like the game was trying to be really ambitious while making it super accessible, and it comes off as just kind of goofy and mashy. I also found the movement in combat to be extremely clunky, and the camera was even worse. I had other more technical issues from time to time too, mainly with regards to framerate. Fairly regularly the framerate would slow to a crawl, which was just baffling. The game looks decent, but I’ve seen plenty of Wii games (and even some PS2/Cube/Xbox games) that look just as good and are just as ambitious with how much is on the screen, yet run just fine. I really don’t know why The Last Story has that issue.
Anyway, I talked a lot about The Last Story last week, and think I’ve pretty much covered everything at this point. It’s an okay game, and not the worst way to spend 20-25 hours or so (which I think is a good length for a JRPG personally), but I didn’t find it to be that engaging on the whole. After that I decided to resume my personal quest to play all of the Zelda games, and I finally played through the original The Legend of Zelda. I finished it last night (it’s pretty short), and if I’m being 100% honest I looked up a handful of things in the back half of the game to keep it moving. I got a good feel for the game’s pacing in the first half, and there are some late game things that I would have never figured out on my own in a timely manner. Still, I really enjoyed the game, and am really glad that I’ve finally played this classic.
My big takeaway from Zelda is that I think it still holds up pretty well today. There’s definitely some really obtuse moments in there that certainly wouldn’t fly anymore; simply gaining entrance to some of the dungeons can feel like a complete stab in the dark for example. Starting with only three hearts after dying also seems like an unnecessary inconvenience, but there’s not much more than that that really feels that dated. It’s a testament to the game’s design that I still enjoyed it 25 years later, and in many ways I think it remains more ambitious and bold than a lot of today’s games. It certainly never holds your hand, and yet I rarely found the game that frustrating. I enjoyed exploring and figuring things out on my own (excluding those excessively obtuse moments that I did look up), and I can only imagine what it might have been like playing this game when it first came out. How did people figure some of these things out before the age of the Internet? I bet you’d feel like either the smartest or the most doggedly determined person on the planet if you did the entire game on your own.
I‘ve talked about and played a lot of Zelda in general this summer, and after experiencing the original I feel like it’s kind of come full circle and reinforced what the franchise means to me, and what it’s meant to gaming in a greater context over the years. So that’s pretty cool. I don’t feel the need to say much more about Zelda though, as it is a 25 year old game that’s been talked about to death by now, but I am super happy that I’ve been able to experience the starting point for one of my favorite franchises. Even better is that it holds up as well as it does. Now there’s only one Zelda game left that I haven't played: Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. I haven’t decided exactly how I want to tackle that one yet, as my understanding is that it’s kind of the “black sheep” of the franchise and might not have aged that well. But I’ll figure it out.
Finally, I’ve been playing Pokemon Conquest here and there the past week or two. I’ve been playing it at a fairly slow pace, roughly 30-60 minutes before bed each night, and am finding it to be a surprisingly enjoyable game. It’s basically a strategy RPG (think Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem) adapted to the Pokemon universe, and the combination works pretty well. The battles play it pretty straight, where you take turns moving your Pokemon around a grid fighting enemy Pokemon. It’s certainly never as deep or intricate as the genre stalwarts, but it’s enjoyable enough. It helps that it has Pokemon specific hooks too, especially with regards to catching new Pokemon and building your team. All of the Pokemon moves and types are present and accounted for, and you have plenty of opportunities to catch new ones and train the ones you have, all to try and take out the other trainers around the world. So in a way it’s just as much like normal Pokemon as it is a strategy RPG, and I think it’s that unique combination that makes it appealing to me (I like both Pokemon and strategy RPGs a lot).
I’ve made pretty good progress in Pokemon Conquest, and will likely finish it relatively soon. Otherwise it’s Zelda II and Borderlands 2 for me in the near future, the latter of which comes out on Tuesday and I couldn't be more excited for it (the original Borderlands is very dear to me). And that’s going to do it for now, until next time!
Currently playing: Pokemon Conquest, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link