I realize that this is an odd way to start the blog for many of you, so allow me to shed some historical context on the situation. It all started with the release of Shining Force III, that political Shining Force game I remember generally liking three years back. Sega botched its release so hard (three parts of the game never made it outside Japan) that the developers flipped them the finger and split off into their own independent studio by the name of Camelot. Their first game? Mario Golf. Their second? Mario Tennis....How about we just skip to the game I'm actually gonna blog about? That would be Golden Sun, an RPG with a Shining Force aesthetic and enough popularity to spawn a couple of sequels. I guess The Lost Age is just that good, because this game certainly isn't.
The game begins with a cold-open of the protagonists getting their asses beat. This should tell you everything you need to know about our heroes, and the fact that this sequence isn't very relevant to the major story should tell you everything you need to know about the writing quality behind Golden Sun. Anyway, fast forward three years. Remember those guys who kicked ass before? The villains? Well, now they've kidnapped your friends and some magical stones or whatever, and it's up to you to go rescue them both. How do you achieve this? By bumbling around the map until the game kind of decides to end. And so we come to the first problem with the game: no real cohesion or focus. There are about a billion different subplots vying for attention in the world of Golden Sun, and none of them really come together too well or building toward something greater. How in the world is draining some mine supposed to help me rescue my friends? And how is keeping people from turning into trees supposed to stop the lighthouses from being lit? It's like the main characters are a bunch of ADD riddled children, bouncing from objective to objective without focusing on the things that actually matter. (Although in Garet's case, this wouldn't surprise me.)
Actually, now that I think about it, what the hell happens when all the lighthouses are lit? It's only brought up once, so it's really easy to forget. I had to look it up while writing this blog, and it turns out that the lighthouses are supposed to bring back the age of alchemy....whatever the crapping hell that means. I think I'm starting to see yet another problem with gluing together a billion short stories under the pretense of them being a single RPG storyline: an utter lack of resolution. Perhaps this is the natural result of presenting so many subplots and directions: you don't have time to address them all, so you don't even bother. For instance, late in the game, you learn about an ancient civilization of magic people called Lemuria. I've pretty much told you all there is to know about it. Do you ever see Lemuria? No, not really. Do you find out why they collapsed into nothing? Again, no luck. Did you remember that you have some friends that you need to rescue? Of course not!
Oh, and don't think the ending addresses all these complaints I'm lobbing toward the game. It's all just twelve or so cliffhangers designed to make you buy the sequel. What did Isaac and company achieve? They didn't rescue their friends or stop the lighthouses from being lit or find Lemuria or anything. They just beat up a dragon and blew up a lighthouse (I honestly have no clue why I blocked that behind a spoiler.) That's not how you're supposed to write a story, guys. You don't plan for a sequel; you use one to address questions you didn't realize were left unanswered in the first place. Otherwise, it just feels like you're holding the ending for ransom money, which I guess is exactly the case with this type of thing.
To be fair, a lot of my issues remain solely with the story. The actual game parts can be enjoyable, or in the case of the Djinn system, needlessly confusing. "What's the Djinn system", you don't ask because nobody speaks to text articles? Well, it's sort of like a summon system that equips specific spells to you based on what combination Djinns you have equipped at any given time. Sound complicated? Well, it is. Unfortunately, this isn't something you can adjust to. The only time you see a Djinn is when you're fighting it, so it's not like you get a good feel for what each Djinn's like. Yea, each one has their own special attack, but what are you really identifying: the Djinn or the attack you're using? It's gonna be the latter. All this in mind, it is now near impossible to ascertain which Djinn gives you which spells, resulting in a system that feels obtuse and arbitrary and some other vowel word. Now don't get me wrong, for I can understand the appeal behind this. There's at least some degree of customization to it, and just spamming the summons and special attacks incessantly will screw you over big time when it comes to magic. The catch, as I've said before, is deciphering this mess.
Let's say that you ignore the Djinns entirely, though. Glossing over the fact that you've made the game utterly balls hard, what are you left with? A battle system consisting of hitting things and magicking things and iteming things, sometimes. Not terrible, but it won't exactly light your wo-hold on, now. What do we have here? No, what do we honestly have here? It's hard to capture in picture, but the game looks much better in motion. Golden Sun makes such intelligent use of camera angles to construct a pseudo-3D display that more of the fun comes from watching the fights instead of, you know, participating in them. (I should probably clarify that this isn't an insult; more a qualification, really.) And that's not even getting into the elaborate summons I failed to mention earlier. Who cares if they all look like plastic dolls? Donkey Kong Country was a great game, and it had the same dumb art style. Then again, so did Rise of the Robots. Ouch.
You know, maybe I was hasty in insulting this game......OK, I certainly wasn't. The story still sucks more ass than a toilet, but there are redeeming factors in every other facet of the game. I've already mentioned battles, so that just leaves everything that isn't battles, which is exactly why I'll go back to the battle system for just a bit. You know how in most games, you can cast spells to kill things? Well, in Golden Sun, those spells serve another purpose: puzzling your way across the world of...the game never tells you. Anyway, the puzzles are perfect for a portable platform such as the PamePoy Padvance: they're mildly challenging, don't take long to complete, yet still manage to grab your attention every five minutes they're introduced. So hooray for making the world as engaging as the combat! But boo for expecting me to play a game for 15 hours when your story is practically nonexistent! I feel I must end this blog with a boo, because how the fuck did I end up here?
- I think I put it best 56 sentences ago when I said that Golden Sun is Attention Deficit Disorder: The Game.
- Sometimes, though, it works out, as the graphics so aptly demonstrate.
- Although now that I think about it, the puzzles I mentioned in the last paragraph damn my entire metaphor to a prolonged, torturous death.
Normally, I wouldn't post one of these videos, since there are billions of the damn things and this isn't even the best one I've seen, but the character choices seem especially off. For example, I don't remember Marth being such an asshole, and since when was Mario an abusive lover? Speaking of him, though, I have to share Mario's mustache with you because we've all had that thought, don't you deny it.
So what's this a spin-off of? Well, nothing, if you read the title. Remember: these are only sort of spin-offs, and Maken X is sort of a spin-off of Shin Megami Tensei. And what's the history behind it? Well, as far as I can tell, there is none. Hell, it's not even officially a Shin Megami Tensei game; the fans only consider it such since Atlus made it, the art style is similar, similar themes are covered, and Shoji Meguro's attached to this. (Not that you can tell.) Other than that, it's as far from Shin Megami Tensei as you can get. An easy to understand, arcade-y FPS where the religious symbolism makes no goddamn sense? Yep, that's not Shin Megami Tensei, alright.
Case in point: religious symbolism, which Maken X has in spades. The Vatican level and Pope boss may have been removed, but you still get characters talking about religiously imposed order and an everlasting war between two super-powerful magical factions! Now I know this all sounds incredibly Shin Megami Tensei, but here's the main difference: while the religious symbolism there makes sense, that isn't the case with Maken X. Take, for example, the core concept: a magical, semi-living sword that takes over people's minds one at a time. Somehow, this is supposed to be the tool for killing aliens or something. Oh, did I mention that there were aliens in Maken X? Because I vaguely remember something about parasitic aliens. It's like Atlus just threw whatever the hell it wanted into Maken X and hoped it would work out in the end.
Then again, this same design process also allows you to play as a furry-armed Russian demon thing fighting a robotic US president in a boxing ring underneath the White House. And that's not even the craziest moment in the game. Quite the quandary. On the one hand, these do sound entertaining, but on the other hand, without any strong consistent logic to tie them together, it feels like cheap pandering. How do I solve this? By ignoring these nonsense moments entirely! After all, it has enough other stuff to placate me. You have a war between the poorly named Blademasters and a guy named Geist with enough moral ambiguity between them to do Shin Megami Tensei proud (even though this isn't a Shin Megami Tensei game), and a girl fusing her mind with the demon sword Maken to save her dad or whatever. The point is that the game does a good job of delivering on its "with great power" message, so at its heart Maken X has a pretty decent story.
I just wish it was told better. Now I'm not talking about the pacing or anything related to the plot (although the plethora of monochrome pictures passed off as cinematics certainly doesn't help), but more with the presentation. To be more specific, the duller than a circle voice acting. Very few people emote in the world of Maken X. Most of the time, they sound like they're auditioning for a role in Valis III. It's not an insignificant flaw, either, since it deprives some of the more emotional moments in the story of their power. When you find out who the Blademasters are, one of them tells you about all the sacrifices they've made to protect the world. This would likely be a very touching moment if said Blademaster knew how to emote. But alas, I'll let my images/captions explain why this is such a problem. It's not often that I say the story would have a greater emotional impact if it was delivered solely through text. The graphics certainly don't help, either, since none of the characters move their mouths (even though certain cutscenes make it abundantly clear that they can).
Speaking of graphics....I really don't have much more to say about them, really. The character design's cool, I guess? I think that's my sign to talk about the actual game. Well, it's a first person shooter on the Dreamcast, meaning things are going to control a bit iffy. More specifically, the Y axis is sorely neglected. Sure, you can look around just fine, but this requires you to stay absolutely still. While demons shoot you for being an affront to god. Obviously, it's next to useless, which is strange, since the game could really use some good Y axis control whatevers. I'd mention the light platforming elements, but the lock on needs it a lot more. Walk thirty feet away from your target, and Maken X will track it just fine, but if that enemy were to stand up on their tippy-toes, the game wouldn't know how to handle it. (Likely because I don't know why a demon would be standing on its tippy-toes in the first place.)
Of course, none of this is as big an issue as I may make it out to be, since there's very little shooting in this shooter. Yes, if you want to wait a bit, you can shoot people from a distance, but since that eats up health, for the most part, you'll be slashing people mindlessly. OK, I shouldn't say "mindlessly", given what's to follow, but that's one of the better ways to explain the appeal behind this game. There's just something really enjoyable about the fast-paced nature of the game, running up to dudes and slashing them in the face like crazy. It's like somebody designed an FPS for arcades, something I didn't know was even possible.
That certainly explains the level of technique present in this game, which is my way of saying that this game is balls hard. Maken X will not accept any fault. If you aren't careful to observe everything the game's throwing at you, it will wreck your shit. That's right:this game won't even let you crap your pants in terror. That's how cruel it is. The strange thing about it, though, is that I can't really complain about the difficulty. OK, so the levels don't have any checkpoints whatsoever, which gets annoying in the longer levels (read: any of the levels), but other than that, the challenge is perfectly legitimate. Learning character moves and enemy patterns and how best to strafe/jump around an enemy and all that. You know: the type of thing you have to work toward and that gives you a well-deserved sense of satisfaction.Although it has now struck me that I've told you about multiple characters without telling you how to get them. Perhaps I should......Nah. I'm pretty sure you already have a good enough clue of what this game is like: a smart FPS (first person sworder) where a faced demon sword fights the Robo-President in Metal Wolf Chaos. Yea, that sounds about right.
- The Dreamcast ran on Windows CE, right? So it makes sense that all the characters in this game emote as much as Microsoft Sam.
- Fortunately, the arcade-y swordplay's there to make me forget about the crappy presentation.
- Even if the controls aren't all they need to be.