Weekly Roundup 09/09/2012

The main games I played this past week were Sound Shapes and The Last Story. Sound Shapes is pretty short, and I was easily able to finish it early in the week. The best word I can think of to describe it is “neat”. I personally didn’t get all that into it though; the campaign is super short, and while it does a good job at showing off what the game is about, the bulk of its focus is on the level editing tools and community features. It’s similar to LittleBigPlanet in that way, and you’re not going to get a ton out of the game if all you do is play the campaign (which is all I did). But for those that really want to dive deep into the level editor and play community levels, there’s a lot of cool hooks here.

Cool music and cool art make for a cool game.

Even playing just the campaign I could still appreciate the game’s core ideas. At its heart Sound Shapes is a simple platformer. As you move through the levels you pick up these collectible items that produce notes. These notes are repeated for the rest of the level, and as you collect more and more of these items you end up making music. As such, there’s a heavy rhythm aspect to the game, if not so much in the gameplay itself then at least in the aesthetic and appeal; you’re going to have to like its music to like Sound Shapes overall. And that’s really all there is to it, jumping around and making music. I don’t think the platforming felt particularly great, as it’s pretty slow and meticulous without ever presenting much challenge. It’s more of a “stop and smell the roses” type of platformer, which only works at all because the music is indeed really good, as are the varying art styles. Sound Shapes is a treat for the senses if nothing else, and those that get the most out of it are going to be those that want to just sit back and relax, and chill to the music. Getting into the community side of things is also important if you want to get much out of the game, and fortunately that stuff seems like it’s done very well.

That about sums up the game's tone.

I’ve never been one to spend a lot of time on a game creating levels or digging through other user made content though, as great as that stuff can sometimes be. As such I’ve moved on from Sound Shapes, and have since spent a decent amount of time with The Last Story. I don’t really know where to begin with it either, as it's a pretty weird game. Being a JRPG I guess it makes sense to start with story stuff, which is probably one of the better parts of the game. I find the characters to be likable, and the writing in particular is pretty sharp. It’s not as overly wordy as the genre can often be, and the dialogue does a good job at really expressing what these characters are all about. The plot itself is very standard though, not really swaying things one way or the other. Otherwise, there's this weird, cheeky undertone to everything. The game makes these really campy jokes all the time, and usually pauses in a way that seems to be waiting for you to laugh. And sometimes I do, simply because it’s all so goofy. There’s also a lot of innuendo and making fun of different character quirks (there’s a drunk and a flirt on your team for example), and I honestly don’t know if I like the game’s tone or not.

The act of playing the game is equally weird, but for entirely different reasons. If you really break it down, you honestly don’t do all that much in The Last Story; it’s a pretty “hands off” game in many ways. A high percentage of the time is spent watching cut scenes and/or listening to dialogue, and even worse is that you don’t have a lot of input once you do gain control. This is mainly because the game has been very linear and very easy so far. This all culminates in the battles, which are incredibly simple. Battles occur in real time in a 3D space, and you can run around and swing your sword as you wish (amusing side-note: the default controls only let you attack via the auto-attack, which is triggered by literally walking into enemies). So there’s kind of an action bent to it, but I’ve basically beaten every fight so far by running at the nearest enemy and mashing A over and over. As the game goes on you slowly start getting some control over the rest of your party, and each character seems to end up with two or three total skills, but there’s never that much to manage past occasionally telling someone to cast a spell. And even that you can only do periodically on a timer.

Not really that much to do in battles.

What makes the battles weird are some of the other little things they do. You can get behind cover, you can shoot a crossbow third person style, and you have five lives in each battle. Why are there third person shooting mechanics in this JRPG? I honestly don’t know, and I rarely use them. There’s also a weird stealth component sometimes, and none of those auxiliary features feel good at all. In fact, most of them feel bad and tacked on in a “why not?” kind of way. Anyway, past the battles there’s simply not a lot else going on gameplay-wise. Equipment is extremely bare bones, there’s nothing at all in the way of skill trees or interesting customization, and the side quests are as boilerplate as they come (leading me to simply skip most of them). It all makes the game feel very “JRPG lite”, almost like it’s meant for a more action audience than the traditional JRPG crowd, and I’m not sure exactly how much it appeals to either one as a result. It’s a similar feeling I got from playing Final fantasy XIII in many ways, which is kind of disappointing, and goes a long way towards describing my biggest complaint about The Last Story: it’s pretty boring. It’s such a passive experience that I frequently find myself getting distracted, and haven’t been able to play the game for long stretches.

The one thing The Last Story has over Final fantasy XIII and Xenoblade Chronicles (that other Wii “JRPG” I didn’t care for) is that it’s supposed to be a whole lot shorter. I think I’m getting relatively close to the end, so I’ll try to see it through to get some story closure if nothing else. The game isn't altogether terrible, but it’s goofy and boring such that I’m ready to be done with it. Anyway, I’ve also been playing a little Pokemon Conquest here and there, and will have more to say about that next week. That’s going to do it for now though, until next time!

Currently playing: The Last Story, Pokemon Conquest

1 Comments
1 Comments
Posted by MajorMitch

The main games I played this past week were Sound Shapes and The Last Story. Sound Shapes is pretty short, and I was easily able to finish it early in the week. The best word I can think of to describe it is “neat”. I personally didn’t get all that into it though; the campaign is super short, and while it does a good job at showing off what the game is about, the bulk of its focus is on the level editing tools and community features. It’s similar to LittleBigPlanet in that way, and you’re not going to get a ton out of the game if all you do is play the campaign (which is all I did). But for those that really want to dive deep into the level editor and play community levels, there’s a lot of cool hooks here.

Cool music and cool art make for a cool game.

Even playing just the campaign I could still appreciate the game’s core ideas. At its heart Sound Shapes is a simple platformer. As you move through the levels you pick up these collectible items that produce notes. These notes are repeated for the rest of the level, and as you collect more and more of these items you end up making music. As such, there’s a heavy rhythm aspect to the game, if not so much in the gameplay itself then at least in the aesthetic and appeal; you’re going to have to like its music to like Sound Shapes overall. And that’s really all there is to it, jumping around and making music. I don’t think the platforming felt particularly great, as it’s pretty slow and meticulous without ever presenting much challenge. It’s more of a “stop and smell the roses” type of platformer, which only works at all because the music is indeed really good, as are the varying art styles. Sound Shapes is a treat for the senses if nothing else, and those that get the most out of it are going to be those that want to just sit back and relax, and chill to the music. Getting into the community side of things is also important if you want to get much out of the game, and fortunately that stuff seems like it’s done very well.

That about sums up the game's tone.

I’ve never been one to spend a lot of time on a game creating levels or digging through other user made content though, as great as that stuff can sometimes be. As such I’ve moved on from Sound Shapes, and have since spent a decent amount of time with The Last Story. I don’t really know where to begin with it either, as it's a pretty weird game. Being a JRPG I guess it makes sense to start with story stuff, which is probably one of the better parts of the game. I find the characters to be likable, and the writing in particular is pretty sharp. It’s not as overly wordy as the genre can often be, and the dialogue does a good job at really expressing what these characters are all about. The plot itself is very standard though, not really swaying things one way or the other. Otherwise, there's this weird, cheeky undertone to everything. The game makes these really campy jokes all the time, and usually pauses in a way that seems to be waiting for you to laugh. And sometimes I do, simply because it’s all so goofy. There’s also a lot of innuendo and making fun of different character quirks (there’s a drunk and a flirt on your team for example), and I honestly don’t know if I like the game’s tone or not.

The act of playing the game is equally weird, but for entirely different reasons. If you really break it down, you honestly don’t do all that much in The Last Story; it’s a pretty “hands off” game in many ways. A high percentage of the time is spent watching cut scenes and/or listening to dialogue, and even worse is that you don’t have a lot of input once you do gain control. This is mainly because the game has been very linear and very easy so far. This all culminates in the battles, which are incredibly simple. Battles occur in real time in a 3D space, and you can run around and swing your sword as you wish (amusing side-note: the default controls only let you attack via the auto-attack, which is triggered by literally walking into enemies). So there’s kind of an action bent to it, but I’ve basically beaten every fight so far by running at the nearest enemy and mashing A over and over. As the game goes on you slowly start getting some control over the rest of your party, and each character seems to end up with two or three total skills, but there’s never that much to manage past occasionally telling someone to cast a spell. And even that you can only do periodically on a timer.

Not really that much to do in battles.

What makes the battles weird are some of the other little things they do. You can get behind cover, you can shoot a crossbow third person style, and you have five lives in each battle. Why are there third person shooting mechanics in this JRPG? I honestly don’t know, and I rarely use them. There’s also a weird stealth component sometimes, and none of those auxiliary features feel good at all. In fact, most of them feel bad and tacked on in a “why not?” kind of way. Anyway, past the battles there’s simply not a lot else going on gameplay-wise. Equipment is extremely bare bones, there’s nothing at all in the way of skill trees or interesting customization, and the side quests are as boilerplate as they come (leading me to simply skip most of them). It all makes the game feel very “JRPG lite”, almost like it’s meant for a more action audience than the traditional JRPG crowd, and I’m not sure exactly how much it appeals to either one as a result. It’s a similar feeling I got from playing Final fantasy XIII in many ways, which is kind of disappointing, and goes a long way towards describing my biggest complaint about The Last Story: it’s pretty boring. It’s such a passive experience that I frequently find myself getting distracted, and haven’t been able to play the game for long stretches.

The one thing The Last Story has over Final fantasy XIII and Xenoblade Chronicles (that other Wii “JRPG” I didn’t care for) is that it’s supposed to be a whole lot shorter. I think I’m getting relatively close to the end, so I’ll try to see it through to get some story closure if nothing else. The game isn't altogether terrible, but it’s goofy and boring such that I’m ready to be done with it. Anyway, I’ve also been playing a little Pokemon Conquest here and there, and will have more to say about that next week. That’s going to do it for now though, until next time!

Currently playing: The Last Story, Pokemon Conquest