Normally I use Past Expiration to talk about lesser known games from way back that people have little to no chance of ever finding much less playing through again. But today I'm going to cover a game that doesn't need any extra exposure. I'm talking about Star Fox 64 because... I really like Star Fox 64. I think it's a fantastic game. Topical!
Star Fox 64 (Animals locked in Space Combat: The Game)
Star Fox 64 is (for the most part) a rail shooter where you fly an advanced space fighter called the Arwing and shoot down tons of enemies that swarm the screen. The Nintendo spin on this game is that the major cast is a bunch of anthropomorphic animals. You play as Fox McCloud (who is a fox) and lead the Star Fox Team (a gang of other animal mercenaries) to defend the planet Corneria against the evil forces of Andross (who is an ape). The story is good enough to get things rolling, but it's no Shakespeare even if it does have a weird reference to a Shakespeare play. Now, this game is a sequel to the Star Fox game on the Super Nintendo, but you don't have to play it to enjoy this one.
On a more historical note, Star Fox 64 also came packaged with the Rumble Pak. This used force feedback to shake the controller when an explosion went off, your ship crashed into something, or a massive boss rolled past. I didn't think much of it at the time. It was entertaining sure, but kind of a gimmick. Now, try to find a controller today that doesn't rumble when you fire a gun or toss grenades. Or at least a game that doesn't make some use of the controller rumbling in your hand. I couldn't imagine that it would be so widespread as it is today.
Awhile ago I mentioned it was a rail shooter and put "for the most part" in parenthesis. While the majority of the game has you flying down a corridor shooting at things, there are a few moments when you can break out in free flight. The game calls this "All Range Mode" complete with a short cutscene and a demonstration of Fox's voice acting. This was somewhat of a bullet point for this game, but people who regularly put in time with flight sims on the PC probably weren't impressed. Even still, the ability to fly wherever you want (in a conveniently box shaped zone) added some opportunities for dogfighting. This was especially true with the Star Wolf Team who acted as direct rivals to the main characters. They were pretty good at showing up, dropping a bunch of one liners, and teaching you how to pull off a U-Turn or a 360 flip by shooting you in the ass.
Now only a few areas in the game made use of all range mode, so it never got old or unwelcome. At the same time, some of the worst levels in the game are entirely all range mode... Like Sector Z. So there's that too.
While blowing through levels collecting power ups and saving your incompetent wingmen over and over again is fine, my favorite part of this game has to be the boss battles. The Nintendo 64 is not the most advanced piece of gaming machinery to ever grace the planet, but they still came up with some memorable fights and crazy enemy designs. For example, there's one boss called Mechbeth you fight in a tank that looks like a giant robotic kite anchored to a train. Why? The player's guide has an explanation for that, but it's pretty weird all the same. There's also the most bizarre submarine I've ever seen, known as the Sarumarine. It's one of my favorite boss fights ever because you're encouraged to abuse the hell out of the game's screen clearing smart bomb. And the captain talks like a pirate too. Other bosses include a fist fighting robot, an Independence Day knock off, a giant clam, the world's most cowardly golem, and a smug ass jerk who pilots a meteor crusher. Any route you took, you were bound to run into something that was fun to shoot to death.
This brings me to one of my favorite parts about early Star Fox games. Route select. In the Super Nintendo version you simply picked which way you wanted to go, which was more of an "easy, medium or hard" selection. Star Fox 64 upped the ante by hiding most of the alternate routes. You had to pull off some feats in order to take a detour to other planets in the Lylat System. Sometimes they were pretty obscure, like saving Falco in the first level and flying under a bunch of rock arches. Other times they made more sense like stopping a doomsday weapon from obliterating an allied base, or crashing an enemy supply train. Either way, there was a ton of replay value going back through the game and trying to find the routes. Of course when this game came out I didn't have the patience for it. Which is why I convinced my parents to buy the Star Fox 64 Official Player's Guide.
To give you some perspective, this was back before I knew how to use the internet to its fullest potential. I can't even remember if I knew GameFAQs existed. Cheat Code Central? Anyway. I really wanted to go to places like Sector Y, Aquas, and Zoness. I could save Falco but how was I supposed to know about flying under some stupid rock arches?
Besides telling you how to go everywhere and kill everything, it also had some extra material in the form of stupid Star Fox 64 lore. Stuff like planetary data (which I'm extremely curious if they did scientific research or just made it all up), information behind bosses and trivia about the enemies you shoot down. It's got some great pictures. It also tells you the names of all the bosses. And it's from Nintendo so it must be legit, right?
One of the reasons I bother mentioning the Star Fox 64 players guide is my username. It's so obscure that I usually always get it (like when I came to Giant Bomb). Considering how much fun it is to kill the Sarumarine in the game and how crazy that sub design is, I just went with it.
Always a good sign when people think Lord of the Rings because of the "saru" part. I've heard that saru means monkey in Japanese, so it must be a weird portmanteau of monkey and submarine. But I don't know that for sure. Either way, this is probably more than you ever wanted to hear about the name Sarumarine.
One of the last things I'll mention before wrapping this up is the short, but effective voice acting included in the game. They're soundbites compared to the monologues you can find in games these days. I used to have a link to a database of all the lines from Star Fox 64. My favorites included the train driver from Macbeth and the Area 6 commander. You can probably look through YouTube if you absolutely have to hear it. I think it stands up. It's not outstanding, but it does its job. The only exception would be Slippy's voice which is absolutely terrible. The sound quality is probably terrible compared to today's standards. But show me another game where a boss gets so fed up with fighting you he calls your entire team "cocky little freaks!"
Now that I've got this out of my system, I'll leave you with this.
Past expiration is my little term for talking about a game way past its prime. In this case, we're going to talk about an RPG involving Norse Mythology that came out in 2006 on the PS2. Topical!
It's also one of the most complicated RPGs I've ever played. What this means to you may vary, but when people are beating this game at level 40 and I'm barely scraping by at,level 86, clearly something has gone wrong.
By the time I heard about the original Valkyrie Profile for the Playstation, it was already an obscure hard-to-find game. Which is a shame because I liked the character design and the straight faced take on Norse legend involving Valkyries, fallen warriors, and the Ragnarok. The best I could do back in the day was get my hands on the sequel Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria (used, of course, with no instruction booklet). It's an odd little game. And by odd, I mean completely bewildering sometimes. This has nothing to do with the story which is easy enough to follow, but more with the leveling up system and how you control battles. I can see why this game series is never at the forefront of RPG discussions. You really have to "get" this game or at the least be really into it. If someone was casually jumping into the pool of Valkyrie Profile head first- dude, the water is freezing. The concept sounds simple enough but once you get rolling this game does not let up.
Action, Adventure, Gods
The simplest part of this game? The story. You play as a princess named Alicia of an island bound kingdom named Dipan. They have some serious beef with the gods (that means the big boss of all creation, Odin) and are planning to start a war. Complicating matters is that Alicia contains the soul of Silmeria Valkyrie, one of Odin's battle maidens that collects fallen warriors for the Ragnarok. But she wants to help the mortals win because she's tired of Odin's dismissive attitude of humans and doesn't want to work for him anymore. You go on a grand adventure (meeting other characters on the way) in the pursuit of something called the Dragon Orb that can really screw over reality and disrupt the balance of power. And this is all well and good until the last quarter of the game where things go off the deep end. Until this point you could say that Valkyrie Profile 2 had gone the way of final fantasy including similar characters, similar worlds, and different stories. But nope, shit gets crazy and let's just spoil it, this game becomes a prequel and a sequel to Valkyrie Profile in a single bound.
Mostly due in part to Lezard Valeth. He's this game's creepy raper guy who has one mean obsession for Lenneth Valkyrie (the main character of the first game). He's willing to screw over reality, the gods, time, space, and the game's plot just so he can screw her. Of course, you don't really know about this until the end. He's good at acting nice until things go his way.
Oh, and you get to kill him. It's extremely hard to pull off, but great.
Level Grinding Can't Save You Now
The meat and potatoes of combat in Valkyrie Profile 2 involves a weird (but fun) system. This is an RPG, so you have plenty of stats, exp, and money to go around. But when it's time to cut stuff up... well... how can I explain this? Basically, you can have a party of four. Each member of your party is mapped to a different button on the PS2 controller. When you press the Circle, Square, Triangle, and X buttons that person will attack. The idea is to string together combos with your party of four jumping in at the right moment to stab, shoot, or cast magic. There are launchers, spikes and other tricks so it's entirely possible to flip an enemy into the air and have 3/4ths of your team completely whiff their attacks. Button mashing will get you nowhere. You really have to wait, coordinate your team, and have everyone attack when the enemy is in the right position.
The first game was turn based, but VP2 adds a little action gauge flavor. It's a 3D battlefield where you can move around and maneuver behind enemies and all that stuff. It's kind of like real time, except enemies only move when you move. The speed of the fight is entirely up to you. The map also shows helpful red zones to let you know the range of enemy attacks. There's a dash move to get around quickly and evade. How many times you can dash, use items, and attack depends on the action gauge I mentioned earlier. You only get that gauge back if enemies attack you, or you move around enough to charge it up. Remember, enemies move when you move so it's hard to get around without something targeting you.
Just in case this isn't making sense, check this video out for a visual demonstration.
Most battles can be won by finding the enemy leader and cutting him down. That's right. You really only need to kill a specific enemy to end the fight and the rest will run away. But as you attack, you can cut off limbs and body parts that sometimes become items. These items can be sold to shop keepers to unlock new equipment. But not every attack or victory will break off items. Sometimes you have to get lucky. And if you're one of those people who like to 100% games... God have mercy on your soul, dude. So, it's kind of a trade off of finishing a battle quick or hacking enemies to pieces hoping for items.
Wait, it Gets Trickier!
Dungeons also have another system just in case you were getting a handle on things. There are these things called Sealstones that modify combat by slapping another rule set on top of the battle system. Rules like "No Blocking" or "Always Surprise Enemies" or "All Attacks are Fire Based" and stat based rules like "120% Attack Boost", "150% Magic Resist" etc. You can find most of these on podiums that broadcast these curve balls into the surrounding area. You can always grab them to remove the effect (like if you were sick of enemies always getting the drop on you) but you can't take them to other dungeons unless you cough up a crystal fee. Crystals are gained after killing enemies and they accumulate painfully slow. The "Turn Attacks into Fire" orb sounds like it could be useful, but if you want to take it to other dungeons you need a whopping 20000 crystals. After 10 hours through the game, you know how many crystals I had? 2000. Yeah. Fuck that.
The systems in this game are dense. Throughout the whole time I always had a feeling like I was missing something. There are boss battles where it was so one sided I thought I was supposed to lose. Then, after my party is quickly wiped out, I get the Game Over screen and realize "Holy Shit! I was supposed to win that one!" After the tutorial dungeon, this game starts kicking you in the ass hard. I haven't even mentioned the whole releasing warriors souls. You often find weapons that you can turn into party members (because of the whole Valkyrie leading the dead thing.) When these characters are a certain level, you can "release" them into the afterlife and they give you some cool items... usually. So you can wage that decision war whether or not you want cool items, or a party member to fight for you. And this is entirely your decision. The game never drops hints or tells you when you should pull this off. The possibilities to fuck up your game is endless. Endless.
I *AM* the World's Worst Valkyrie Profile 2 Player
The end result of this is the massive mountain I had to climb to beat this game. My party was about level 86 or so at the final boss. Getting through this game was like pulling teeth. And to make it worse, after I beat the game, I looked up some information and apparently you can finish the game at level 40. The super hard bonus dungeon that appears at the end of the game? Level 50. I don't understand it myself. I can't even get into the bonus dungeon because of the skill check boss at the entrance. And it sounds especially pitiful after hearing that some people beat this game with only one character through the entire game. One character!
Even still, this game was fun when I wasn't doing 7 damage to a boss with 10,000 HP. I wish I could have gotten the mechanics down better so fights weren't quite as headache inducing. Special attacks are pretty cool though. It also helps that the Norse angle pushes this game away from standard fantasy stories I have a lot of trouble getting into.
If anyone else has played this game I'd love to hear what you think of it. Tell me what you did. Maybe I'll find out where I went wrong. I don't know, maybe this game is just hard. Either way, it's tough to find a combat system like this anywhere else.
Let's just say I'm excited to see what Portal 2 is all about. So in anticipation of the upcoming release next Tuesday (most likely earlier for PC), I went back and played the original Portal. I've played it before on a friend's PS3 with the Orange Box and another friend's much better laptop, but this time I played the X-Box Arcade release titled "Still Alive."
Consider this sentence your one and only reference to cake. You're welcome.
Portal: Still Alive (Quirky Puzzle Game: The Game)
I probably don't have to explain anything about this game. What hasn't already been turned into a meme has become common knowledge to the point of a Citizen Kane "It Was His Sled" moment. Personally, I think it suffers from overexposure. But just in case I'll gloss over the basic idea of Portal.
The most important thing to know is that this is a short, quirky game. It uses a first person perspective that doesn't involve shooting anyone or killing monsters. It's a First Person Puzzler. The puzzle part involves a device called the Portal Gun that shoots two different colored portals you use to create gateways between Point A and Point B. Hence, "Portal." You can pass through these portals as freely as you want, throw boxes through them, or use some crazy physics involving momentum to launch yourself across the room. Other things like rockets and bullets can also pass through the portals, so placement of your orange and blue holes in the time-space continuum becomes very important later on. The nice thing about Portal is that it rolls out all these concepts to you in a gradual fashion, so you can play around and get use to the crazy things you'll do later.
Of course, one of the first things I did was place a portal on the floor and the ceiling so I could fall forever at terminal velocity. The other thing was slap two portals in a corner so I could chase myself around in a circle. You can do a lot of dumb things with a Portal Gun. Most, if not all, of them are a lot of fun.
One of the things I've grown to enjoy the most about Portal is the story. At the beginning it doesn't seem like the game has one. You play as a seemingly nameless woman in an orange jumpsuit running through obstacle courses trying to get to the next elevator. Meanwhile a computer voice tells you inane things about safety protocols at Aperture Science and occasionally hints about game play. The puzzle game evolves into an escape attempt that leads to a battle with the Computer AI that's been leading you through all the tests. Apparently all the people at Aperture Science have died a long time ago. All those moments before where you were sent up against automated turrets and deathtraps were actually real. There was no control. Just the computer named GlaDOS and a lot of neurotoxin.
It's a nice surprise that most everyone knows about by now. And that song by Jonathan Coulton.
Some would say that this game is pretty funny. Humor is something that really depends on the person, but I do think that the dialogue and design choices give the game a lot of personality. I don't know many games have auto turrets that apologize while opening fire on you and say "good bye" with a cheerful voice as you kick them over. GlaDOS (the only character with an actual speaking role) is also pretty entertaining. She has a HAL 9000 complex where it gets tough balancing computer logic and human emotions. For her, it very difficult to distinguish the difference between science, the mass murder of co-workers, and recipes for baked goods. The character you play as is literally the only person she can interact with in the Aperture Science facility. She wants to kill you, and she kinda doesn't.
Still Alive Version
The X-Box Arcade release I played through was Portal with some extra challenge maps. The maps are pretty good. They aren't insanely hard like I thought they would be, but the main difficulty is scoring well with a combination of minimum steps, minimum portals, and maximum speed. It's one thing to play Portal while looking hard at a room and it's another thing to try and play as precise as you can, as fast as you can. I'm not one to sweat about scoreboards so I probably won't kill myself to get gold. The achievements are all a real pain in the ass but at least someone made them challenging.
It's a decent version if you have no other option. The frame rate is kinda shaky and there are a lot of short loading screens peppered throughout the story mode. It didn't bother me but I definitely noticed. The game play is the same and all the mind bending portal tricks are still in there. Listening to the developer commentary makes it sound like a really impressive game how they had to handle collision detection moving from portal to portal, and the way you can watch yourself come and go at the right angles. And maybe its my TV and settings, but holy shit, the subtitles are huge. They take up half the screen.
Since it takes a little more than an hour to play through Portal start-to-finish, I'm ready for more. Good thing there's a sequel coming out soon.
After playing bits and pieces of it over the past few weeks, I've finished Okamiden. It's about 15-20 hours. Probably longer if you're looking for every secret and collectable. I don't like it, but this is due more to my tastes than the game being completely broken or anything.
To give you an indicator of how I view the whole Okami thing. I thought the PS2 game was good. I don't think it deserves the endless praise it's accumulated over the years... but it's a decent game. I loved the art style, the brush motif, and the enemy designs. At the same time it's almost stupidly easy with so many in-game fail safes that it's damn near impossible to see the game over screen unless you're really, really trying. Not to mention it has some pacing issues, and if you aren't into parodies of Japanese folklore as old as the hills... you probably won't get much out of it either.
I don't know if there's ever a graceful way to complain about a game, but I will try as hard as I can. Right up front, I want to say that this game is perfectly playable. It's probably even fine. And if someone had not played Okami on the PS2 I could possibly see how they might love it. If you like cute things and children, you're in luck. I wanted to get that out of the way, because that's about all the nice things I can say about Okamiden.
Okamiden (Okami Plus Kids, Minus Everything Else: The Game)
This game is not for me. Period. It somehow manages to hit everything I don't like about character design. On top of that, it has a story awkward enough to muck up the plot of the first Okami. The first game was basically one big affectionate parody of Japanese mythology, so at least it had direction. Okamiden doesn't have that base to build on and the story is as simple as good vs evil plus kids. Maybe because of that, it ends up reusing a lot of events from Okami to the point of being uncomfortable.
It feels more copy-paste than a play on nostalgia. There are new areas, but the split feels pretty uneven by the end of it. The worst involves taking one of the most awkward parts of Okami and developing it into a major plot point that stretches through the last half of the game. And they don't even have a pair of twin clockwork owls wearing top hats and monocles to justify it.
A lot of it feels lazy, especially the cast. Most of them involve taking a character from Okami and making a kid version of them. You play as Chibiterasu, who is a young Amaterasu. You have Kuni, who is basically a young Susano. You have Kurow, who is basically a young Waka. Etc. It's a lot like Baby Mario and Baby Luigi syndrome only spread out to most of the major cast and trying to pawn them off as brand spanking new characters. Maybe I could enjoy this if it was a Muppet Babies deal. Except these kid versions follow character arcs similar to their older counterparts. Yes, I know that Kuni is boastful and cowardly and by the end of the game he'll learn what bravery means and actually become a hero. Yes, I know that Kurow is mysterious but helpful and will show his true colors when it really matters. And that sounds really harsh, but I cannot treat younger versions of older characters like they're new or something special. I'm one of those guys that hates Baby Mario and Baby Luigi when they show up as characters in Mario Kart. And I get the same feeling here.
Also perplexing is the way they make the top screen the center of the action where you fight enemies and navigate the land. Whenever you use the celestial brush to draw symbols to use abilities, there is a pause as the entire top screen shifts down to the lower screen. When you're done using the stylus, everything shifts back to the top screen. It sounds kind of petty to harp on a few seconds of transitions... but considering how many times you use the Celestial Brush throughout the game, those few seconds add up. It gets old quickly, and I really wonder why they didn't just make it so you could effortlessly shift back and forth between brush abilities and the action. It's like a thorn in your foot you can't get out. You will live, but it will bug the shit out of you if it's not already causing extreme pain.
Overall, the game is tougher than Okami. I actually died a few times. Combat walks a fine line between bearable and tedious, because a lot of enemies have annoying invincibility frames that stretch out fights. It's also been simplified to button mashing. You get three weapons throughout the game. Three. But the worst part is the boss battles. Holy shit.
The tipping point for me was the third boss of the game that involved fighting a giant Kabuki puppet. Defeating it was kind of annoying. Then you fight the Kabuki Puppet two more times. What's especially bad is that you have to play connect-the-dots to defeat the puppets. Only by the second and third fight they're throwing up barriers you have to counter with fire and exorcism magic on each dot. There's no way to simply hit all the dots in one go... so you end up doing tons of screen shifting as you're forced to hit each individual dot before connecting them all. If you aren't fast enough the boss recovers and you get to do it all over again. It doesn't get much better from there.
One boss is even a palette swap evil version of the main character that comes out of nowhere. There is nothing I hate more than palette swaps trying to be passed off as an original character. It's fucking lazy.
The writing is also not so great. Almost perplexing really. Not that Okami was a pinnacle of game script writing, but Okamiden feels like they aren't even trying. Kurow is the best/worst example. How do you like your Highway to the Danger Zone references in a game about mystical Japan? What about "hella bad"? Do you like a character who uses so much slang he's one dawg away from- AW SNAP! DROP A BOMB ON IT? What does "I didn't know he'd be so diesel" even mean!? What does Vin Diesel have to do with any of this?
I could go on, but I've probably already overdone it. It just feels like Okamiden has no soul. It's going through the motions without actually leaning anything from the game it's supposed to be a sequel for. In my mind, sequels should do something new or add to the experience. Okamiden doesn't even give you more of the same. It just feels gutted.
I had some grand designs about Suikoden V and a faux-Let's Play, but due to some technical difficulties... why don't I just tell you about the first two hours of gameplay instead?
Suikoden V is a turned based RPG with some... interesting character design. The staple of this series involves the 108 Stars of Destiny. What that means is there are 108 characters (for the most part) you can recruit to your cause as you fight for truth, justice, and all that jazz. Yeah, Suikoden has always had a truckload of characters. It's kind of like a "Catch-Em-All" situation as it can effect how good your ending is at the end of the game. But this is made a little trickier because there are always a handful of characters you can miss out on forever if you weren't in the right place at the right time. If that kind of thing bothers you, I guess an FAQ is always an option. But I find it kinda cool and gives you some motivation for exploring after every other major plot event.
Of course, two hours in, I haven't done a whole lot of fighting because these games have always been pretty long. 40 to 50 hours (yes, even if you're running through as fast you can.) Most of my time has been spent getting to know a few of the hundred characters in this game and laying down the basic plot. And it's pretty good so far. There's some interesting stuff involving a Queendom, politics, Runes, and some really, really annoying nobles. Since you play as a member of royalty, you get to grapple with all this shit first hand.
But the heart of this game has always been its characters. Suikoden has always been kind of anachronistic and schizophrenic. In addition to swords and magic, there are elevator technicians, iron chefs, snipers, samurai, beavers, dwarfs, and hand puppets. You never know what you might find. I think it's pretty awesome.
People You May or May Not Learn to Care About
You play as this guy, the prince. Unfortunately, since the game takes place in a Queendom, being a prince means he's nothing but a figurehead that gets to run errands for the queen. He gets to go to towns like Lordlake where everyone hates him because the place got nuked by the queen and turned into a desert. Fun!
The Giant Bomb wiki tells me he his official name is Freyjadour... and that's pretty fancy. Since this series usually lets you name the main character, I called him Mylar. Cause I felt like it. Like most RPG player characters, he don't talk much but he's into some freaky shit. I mean, he's mostly silent except when dialogue choices come up.
He also uses a really bizarre weapon that's some kind of cross between nunchaku and a staff. It can shift back and forth between a three-piece nunchaku version when he needs some flashy moves, or straighten up into a staff when he needs some distance hitting people in the face. I have no idea how that works.
This is Georg. He's pretty chill outside of battle and normal as people go in this game. He's a newcomer who gets to ask a lot of questions you might have about the Queendom of Falena. I like him.
It also helps that he's a fucking killing machine that cannot be stopped. As one of your party members early on, he will kill the majority of the monsters gunning for you. Sometimes, when the mood strikes him, he won't even bother doing damage and just instantly kill whatever he's attacking.
Basically he's a tutorial fail safe that I expect won't be in my party for very long. Still, a pleasure to watch as he destroys everything. He was also in Suikoden II... but I didn't get far enough in that game to see him. That's a damn shame.
Lyon is the prince's bodyguard. She's about the same age as him if a little younger. She's also ready to die for the prince at the drop of a hat... and that's kinda weird. Appropriately clingy for a bodyguard and especially concerned for the prince's honor as well as his health.
She's okay. The best part about her is her weapon which is a switchblade sword. The grip is just as long as the blade and it looks pretty cool. I'm not sure if that would work in real life, but this is Suikoden, yo.
Co-Op Attack: Characters with certain relationships (brothers, family, rivals, etc.) will often have combination attacks when they're in the same party. Lyon has one with the prince, where they double team an enemy and kick the crap out of it. It's pretty useful... when Georg isn't killing everything with one swipe of his blade.
Sialeeds here is the prince's aunt who has a really terrible character design. The only thing weirder than her choice of clothing is her hair, which collects on the right side of her face like a parasite. I'm sure someone, somewhere has already mastered cosplaying Sialeeds (complete with crazy hair) but I'm not brave enough to check Google to confirm. I can feel it in my bones.
...anyways. She throws a pair of chakram warrior princess style and uses really terrible magic. Status effects don't work like they do in Persona 4. Meaning, they never work. She's also kind of a jerk among friends. Hates lizards.
Co-Op Attack: She's got a funny attack with the prince. Basically, he charges headlong into the enemy while she sits back and watches. After he does all the work, she throws her chakram once and calls it a day. Hilarious.
Queen Arshtat here is the big boss of Falena and the prince's mother. She responds to rebellions in her kingdom by nuking it with an orbital strike from the sun. And while that's a killstreak I wouldn't mind having, the Sun Rune that lets her pull that off also makes her ego trip like nobody's business. She gets a serious god complex and enjoys talking down to her son, her husband, her family and everyone else who isn't her.
Everyone is an ant, and she is the magnifying glass. It gets hard to tell where Arshtat's personality begins and Sun Rune psychosis ends.
Also... that's a crazy crown on her head. You'd need magic to get that to balance right.
Arshtat's husband and the prince's dad. That doesn't make him a king or anything. It just gives him the authority to command Falena's closest thing to a special forces outfit known as the Queen's Knights.
He's also pretty jovial and reasonable as the right hand to a queen who often threatens to make Falena walk on the sun... literally. He shows his affection for the prince by putting him in a headlock and refusing to let go until the prince cries mercy.
Apparently he's from another country who won some ancient games to marry the queen or something... I'm still working on it.
Little princess Lymsleia. She's the prince's lil' sis and really, really loves her bigger brother. Often rampages through the castle where the royal family lives to get what she wants. She's not bad for a little girl. Usually kids walk a fine line between completely adorable and completely annoying. So far, she hits the happy medium.
Miakis is the princess' bodyguard. She doesn't seem all there but it's hard to tell if she's an airhead or faking it. She's pretty good when it comes to jokes or comic relief. In a battle she uses a pair of knives to cut things up.
Really, the thing that stands out the most is her fighting pose that sorta reminds me of the crane style from Karate Kid. Co-Op Attack: Miakis has a carbon copy of Lyon's co-op attack with the prince. Which... I guess makes sense if they're both bodyguards. Maybe it's a standard formation or something.
Kyle is one of the Queen's Knights but his real job is standing up for the right of men everywhere to get with women no matter who they are or where they're from. He's solid in a battle, but his skills for detecting beautiful women and searching them out is top notch. Too bad he fails with the follow through and gets zero results (so far).
The Barows boys. Salum (older) and Euram (younger) Barows. Two stuck up nobles with personalities bad enough to choke the life out of someone. Although, this is probably done intentionally. Probably. I sure goddamn hope.
As a challenge, see how far you can get in this cutscene before turning it off or hating the shit out of these guys. Since I had to watch the whole thing to progress the game I hate the shit out of them.
They're one of the two major factions warring over Falena behind the scenes. Knife-in-Back syndrome is especially bad in this country, and these two guys don't help at all.
So yeah, I thought I would write something to salvage this grand disaster. Hard to say if I will write anything else about this game. That depends on some other factors, but yeah. I like it so far.
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In my continuing mission to write about a game I've played recently comes MadWorld for the Wii. I've been writing a lot about Wii games, mostly because it's pretty easy to find decent games for a low price on that console. Today we'll take a look at a stylized black and white game that specializes in style and violence... and not much else.
MadWorld (Have Chainsaw, Will Slaughter: The Game)
I like MadWorld, but it definitely has some problems. There's a lot of little issues that come together over the course of the game that really bring the experience down. Most of this can be defined by one word: repetitive. I like the setting of an over the top reality TV show that markets death as entertainment like the world has come full circle back to the Roman Gladiator games. The presentation hits some great beats with a handful of stereotypical characters you'd expect from a bad television show. And if reality TV is about watching ugly people do uninteresting things, MadWorld has taken it to the extreme of watching ugly people kill each other. A subtle example with the expectations of the audience can be found in the points rankings for killing. Chainsawing a man in half (as extreme as that sounds) is considered "Routine Violence." Routine. Standards are tough.
Most of the things I like about this game have nothing to do with playing it. Gameplay wise, MadWorld spreads itself pretty thin and variety dries up quickly. But I'll get to that later.
To start on a high note, my favorite part about the game is the two Deathwatch combat commentators Howard Holmes and Kreese Kreely. They talk about all the mayhem you cause while playing as Jack, and what makes them so great is that they have Greg Proops (Whose Line is it Anyway?) and John DiMaggio (Bender from Futurama, Marcus from Gears of War) providing the voices for the two chatterboxes.
They make a team that is a joy to listen to. Both of them turn in some great performances and play off of each other well. In accordance to the theme of MadWorld their characters are complete dirtbags- but they're entertaining dirtbags. Best of all, you never see them in game so you can foster the mental picture of Bender and Greg Proops talking with each other. HOWEVER: Repetition, the major problem with this game, hurts these guys in the long run. Since there is no programmed limit to their commentary, they will often say the same thing over and over again as you slam soda bottles in a guy's mouth, or throw dudes into a circular saw, or do anything that involves killing. What starts out funny the first time will quickly die as they tell the same joke about Mad Juice for the hundredth time. Still, to hear Greg Proops and John DiMaggio work together is very cool.
Surprisingly enough, I really enjoyed the soundtrack to MadWorld. I'm no connoisseur of rap or hip-hop, but the posturing and boasting usually associated with hardcore rap works well with the all the shit going down in each level. They do some cool stuff like a guy rapping to Japanese instruments, your basic rap-rock fusion, and fun with trumpets and other brass. Most of my favorites are the stage themes, but the boss battles are also pretty good. I imagine most of these are guilty pleasures as I'm pretty sure people who listen to rap regularly probably won't be impressed. Even still, I listed some of my favorites below if you're really interested. It's a Mad World Ride!! Let's Go Deathwatch Look Pimpin HOWEVER: Each song only has two verses and they're kinda short. It's obvious they were designed to loop over and over again (fitting with the repetitious theme). It's kind of a bummer they aren't proper songs like something you'd find in No More Heroes. And that has some amazing music.
The gameplay is hardest hit with the lack of variety. The entire game can be summed up by one basic murder combo and a few unique execution set pieces. The flat tire + signpost + rosebush combo will be burned into your brain by the time you finish the game. Most of the joy of moving on to a new level involves finding the new environmental weapon that you can jam a guys face into and the Bloodbath Challenge mini-games. Now, the mini-games are pretty good. They usually involve timed challenges where you throw men into speeding trains, a gigantic jet turbine, turn people's heads into a golf ball with a golf club, and more. But even this runs out before the final area and you'll start revisiting challenges you've played before. Not even the good ones either.
It's also damn unfortunate that movement controls are worked into basic moves like dodging and throwing an uppercut. The game is insanely picky about what qualifies as a vertical motion and a horizontal motion. Most of the time I want to do a backhand (horizontal motion) I do an uppercut. This is especially bad on a few quick time events during boss battles. Jude the Dude and The Shamans are a standout. Both of them require vertical and horizontal movement that the game will inevitably fail because it can't tell the difference. It requires pretty damn deliberate movement that is hard to pull off when you're busy fighting for your life. Luckily, MadWorld isn't so technical that it makes ore breaks the game. It's just fucking annoying.
And the... What the Fuck?
If you don't know about this guy, all these cutscenes will tell you everything you need to know about The Black Baron. In game, he's the host of Deathwatch and introduces all the Bloodbath Challenges with the help of his woman, Mathilda. And as you've probably noticed, he's a stereotype of a black pimp with enough slang to choke an English professor. ...yeah.
But... he's so blatantly offensive that I don't know how anyone could possibly take him seriously. Every time he shows up and opens his mouth he's quickly killed in a variety of ways. The game goes the extra mile to kill him over and over again. If that's not enough, he's also the final boss so you can beat him up once and for all. They take this stereotype and destroy him again and again until there's nothing left. And if to make matters worse (better? more complicated?) the announcers suggest he's actually a white guy in black face.
If anything, the Black Baron is too absurd for his own good. He does work for the purpose of cementing a TV show so terrible that the people who take part it in are indifferent to everything, everyone, and even themselves. It will be really interesting when Anarchy Reigns comes out and the Black Baron makes another appearance.
Really, MadWorld needed a lot more of just about everything to be a really outstanding game. It's not complete trash, it has a lot of nice ideas, but it wears out pretty quickly. You can unlock Hard Mode after you beat the game, and I think it would have fared better if that was the default difficulty. Enemies actually attack you rather than line up, waiting to be killed, and the bosses become challenging.
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No More Heroes 2 online for 15 dollars means a sure sale for me. I beat it recently, so I thought write it up.
No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle (Better Beam Katana Action: The Game)
My roommate introduced me to the first No More Heroes back when using the Wii Remote speaker to simulate a one-sided phone call was a novel concept. I thought it was a decent game with some personality and some great boss characters, but I wasn't compelled to beat it after Bad Girl because the final boss kinda paled in comparison to the rest of the cast of killers. Not to mention, boss fights took forever. You really had to wail on dudes to kill them. With No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle the gameplay has been tweaked to become damn near perfect. It's really fun cutting up guys and performing suplexes when the mood strikes you. Bosses are just as tricky, but they no longer take three hours to kill. The game plays better... at the cost of assassins not being as memorable as the first batch.
Then there's Travis Touchdown... who actually develops as a character by the end of the game. I'm not sure if that undermines the concept No More Heroes was going for in the first place, but it's interesting none the less. I'm still on the fence about it.
Hackin' and Slashin'
If you don't know (although it seems unlikely), this game is brought to you by Suda 51 who also had a hand in the extremely bizarre Killer7. Usually these games have tons of personality and style while being a little rough when it comes to gameplay. Desperate Struggle has mostly ironed out that issue. Assassin ranking challenges roll out one after another. You no longer have to grind quirky mini-games to get enough cash to kill guys. What mini-games there are have been turned into NES-style 8-bit throwbacks that I found completely awesome. For the most part, they're optional. Cash will get you clothes, weapons and upgrades for strength and stamina, but it's entirely possible to play through the game without touching any of it. Not that it's recommended. Bosses might not take fifty million hits to kill this time around, but they have plenty of highly damaging moves that will catch you unaware the first time out. What I'm saying is that a little breathing room is nice.
Like No More Heroes, this game is a boss game. Fighting expendable henchmen is not the heart of the matter, but rather like an appetizer before the main course. The best part is the quirky boss encounters that come in the form of the Assassin Ranking Battles. Of course, these people are not so much assassins but loud, noticeable psychopaths with crazy weapons. You have a guy with a boombox that transforms into mechanical hands, a girl who uses anti-material rifles with scythe blades attached to the butt stocks, an old man with a gold plated luger that shoots money, and much much more. I enjoyed the cast of killers that Travis goes up against. There are a few standouts, a few familiar faces, and some bland ones. Overall, the assassins are fine but maybe not as memorable as the first game. You may feel different.
Also, I really miss the boss intros that used the artificial voice, a quip from the assassin and a mean guitar lick.
My favorite boss out of the bunch is probably 4th rank Margaret Moonlight mostly because she's such a hodgepodge of ideas that somehow... work out just fine. And her damn song. Her boss fight was also pretty entertaining despite chasing her all over the roof of a grocery store. Not to mention her weapon of choice involves two sniper rifles that look like a cross between a Barret and a scythe. Which is crazy. I'm glad we have the concept art on the site to help wrap my head around that one.
Her boss song "Philistine" is a definite guilty pleasure in this game. It's not a great song, but it's funny and pulls the double duty of characterizing Margaret instead of the cutscenes that usually sandwich a boss fight. I'd like to think Margaret is way better at killing people than carrying a tune.
Dr. Letz Shake walks a fine line between awesome and a disappointment. Originally he was the unfought 5th rank boss in the first No More Heroes. He had some of the greatest scenes in the game where you were teased and blocked twice from a boss fight. The tantrum Travis throws after finding out he ranked up without actually killing anyone was solid gold.
Now that Letz is actually a boss... well, expectations will always fall short of reality. Dr. Letz Shake is pretty funny with his phallic design and verbal tick. But unlike Margaret, chasing him all over the room was not fun. Especially with all the waiting between his countdowns and earthquake attacks. I really wanted this to be more fun but... what can you do. Question mark.
Probably the blandest bland that ever blanded, I can't really figure out what's going on with Million Gunman. It should be awesome enough that he has a gun that shoots money. It should be awesome enough that he has enough money to use as ammunition... but when it comes down to it... The dude has zero personality. Zero.
Considering how things go in No More Heroes 2 is, this might be completely intentional. Rich white man is rich. But as it stands, he is such a boring boss fight. It also doesn't help that he repeats his very few lines of dialogue over and over again. The only thing saving this encounter from being a total chore is that you fight him with Shinobu. His boss theme wasn't bad either. But man... lackluster character to be sure.
The Motherfucking Frustrating
I found it odd that throughout the entire game, there was no boss harder than Matt Helms (well, not including the final boss). He's only the third boss (fourth if you play your cards right) but for whatever reason, I died on him dozens of times. No More Heroes 2 started out strong, but came to a grinding halt as soon as I got to this guy.
I realize it may be a fluke, maybe I was off my game, but man... I beat 2nd rank Alice in one try. Fighting Matt Helms was like headbutting a fucking brick wall. There's really no good way to approach him. At a distance he throws fire bombs that double as landmines, and up close he just cracked me in the face with his axe whenever I tried to roll out of the way. In the end, I got lucky and beat him with one little pixel of health left. He feels more like a boss from the first game than anything else. Do not want.
Honorable mentions go to New Destroyman for having the best cutscenes and Alice Twilight/Moonlight for being a predictable but good fight. The final boss is a real bitch with some really cheap moves... but I didn't really expect otherwise. The less said about that, the better.
The End of Travis 'effing Touchdown?
Lastly, we have Travis. The way I see it, he's not a good character by any stretch (not that this game makes it a point or anything) but he's entertaining with the things he says. At least the guy is enthusiastic about his goals and murdering people. However, toward the end of the game he kinda (ever so slightly) shifts toward character development which is a tall order considering how terrible he is. Essentially he's cool with killing hundreds of thousands of people in order to have sex with a woman who may or may not be french. Which works in the context of the game because it's all about being completely over-the-top with just about everything. It's a little jarring to hear him going on about "we're people too" and feeling sorry for bisecting other assassins. Maybe I found it a little unconvincing. It's hard to say. No More Heroes was pretty adamant about NOT having a sequel... but here we are. Maybe by the third game, Travis will move from cartoon character to full fledged human being. That might be interesting to see.
I really like No More Heroes 2. It certainly gave me a lot more drive to complete it than the first one. The revenge plot probably helped. There's plenty to get caught up on if you hate Travis as a character or don't enjoy fountains of blood or blatant boob/butt jiggle physics on nearly all of the female characters- but that's No More Heroes. It's completely unapologetic about being as ridiculous as possible.
If you don't know about Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love and have some time to kill, then you're in luck! Today I wanted to talk about the dating sim / strategy game that came out on the PS2 and Wii last year because, while it's not the hottest thing around, it's still pretty entertaining in a lot of different ways. You'll get to know a bit about the wonderful world of steam powered mechanized combat. Also relationships. And theater productions. There's a lot of that too.
I originally didn't want to write so much about an PS2/Wii game but... I got carried away. Whoops.
Sakura Wars So long, My Love
So, I know a bit about the Sakura Wars franchise. It started as a release on the Sega Dreamcast that spiraled outward into the kind of merchandise blitz you'd expect of a popular property... but only in Japan of course. This surprising (almost shocking) US release is actually the fifth game in the series that coincidentally takes place in New York, New York during the late 1920's. It follows an alternate time line where the world has been revolutionized by steam powered everything. Steam powered cars, clocks, cell phones, computers and (most importantly) mechanized suits built for fighting demons. Yes, there are plenty of demons that absolutely despise everything about humanity. Oddly enough, they also fight in steam powered machines.
I should point out right up front that this game is pretty silly and very glass half full. It's more concerned about spectacle than it is rationalizing why Times Square can suddenly transform into a launch pad for a giant airship. Don't expect the story to explore what it means to be human or the complex relationships between man and women. However, this also makes it extremely awesome because it can get away with a lot of ridiculous stuff without losing face. It's also extremely colorful. I guess your mileage may vary, but I can dig it. I don't need every game to be as fucked up Silent Hill 2, or as dancing-with-chainsaws as Gears of War.
But the meat of this game is the dating sim element. It's kinda like Persona 4, only instead of unlocking more powerful persona you're encouraging your team of mech pilots to fight better in turn based combat. Instead of traditional RPG level building by slaughtering X number of monsters, you're building camaraderie to make your team a well oiled demon killing machine. That involves lots of dialogue. It's an interesting system that is mostly timed (make your choices fast) and sometimes NOT answering and keeping silent is the best choice. But this ain't no Mass Effect, sometimes choices aren't all that clear and you end up doing something you didn't intend. An unfortunate problem from translating Japanese to English, really.
I guess I should mention that these pilots you're talking with? They're all women of varying age that you can make moves on at the appropriate (or inappropriate) time. Hand waved with an explanation that the vast majority of good steam powered mech pilots are all women. It requires spirit energy that most men don't have. Or something. The only man who fights in this game is also the player character, Shinjiro Taiga. Due to a Japanese gag of "theater troupe" and "combat troupe" sounding insanely similar when spoken but different when written out, this entire operation is hidden by a theater production on Broadway. That's right. By day they're live on stage, by night they fight demons in mechs. Of course, due to some elaborate launch sequences, it's not so much Black Ops and more like Superman disguising himself as Clark Kent with a pair of glasses and a nice suit.
Let's meet the cast, shall we?
The Team (also known as Star Division)
You play as this guy. He's one of those plucky "never say die, never give up" types that fashions himself as a modern day Samurai. Really, this just means that he has a pair of insanely sharp swords he cuts stuff with. He's a new graduate of the Imperial Japanese Navy who gets sent to New York to captain the Star Division. It's one of those Anti-Demon World Coalition deals.
He has a million different names because everyone goes out their way to avoid saying Shinjiro. I think Shinjiro is a pretty badass name, but instead you get Shin, Shiny, Shinster, Shinmania, Shinmillion, etc.
Fujiyama Star: "Star" is the name of the mechs the heroes use in this game. They're kinda shaped like trashcans but it works because it seems like a plausible early robot design. Kinda. Shin's uses a pair of giant Katanas (one with a reverse grip) and it looks pretty cool for being the Mario of the game.
Looks like Gemini, sounds like Ge-mini (like Mini Cooper). She's from Texas doing the cowgirl thing and dreaming of becoming a Broadway star. Rides her horse around New York without violating any traffic laws or sanitation rules. She's one of the first girls you have a chance of befriending once hitting New York soil... but becomes playable insanely late in the story. You won't use her much. For a country mouse in the city, her personally isn't all that annoying... HOWEVER-
Her voice actor uses a very exaggerated Southern accent. It's really hard to listen to her for any length of time. It leads to a lot of "Skip Dialogue" A button mashing events.
Rodeo Star: Her fire themed orange-and-red mech has a gunblade. Yes, very Squall from Final Fantasy VIII. The revolver isn't built into the blade, but sits on top of it. No Guardian Forces though *rimshot*.
Looks like Chair-on, sounds like Karen. She's a lawyer from Harlem that has a short temper and a fiery personality. Her gimmick is justice and the law but in battle she's more judge, jury, and executioner to a worrying degree. Her character as a whole is completely crippled by her introductory chapter where she tries to sell out her neighborhood (Harlem), her friends, and her family to a corrupt corporation and THE MAN. They try to show it as a "blinded by mindless devotion to justice", and you do get plenty of opportunity to show her what's what in a mock trial...
But it's really unsatisfying. She's such a complete dick that you just want to punch her in the face. By the time she gets better it's really a case of "too little, too late." Not to mention she's fairly worthless in battle. Slow and short range movement. If this was a more traditional RPG she would be off the team.
Highway Star: Of course a character as bad this has to have an awesome Deep Purple reference (and one of my favorite songs). Plus, he mech's weapon is a chain whip Road Rash style. It's also painted jet black. That's kinda cool. Right?
Subaru is an eccentric genius who tries to transcend gender roles by talking in the third person. "Subaru is Subaru. Nothing more, nothing less." However, because of the limitations of translating Japanese to English, Subaru gets referred to as "she" by pretty much everyone. I'll even lapse into "she" just for simplicity sake of writing this damn thing. But really, her gender is supposed to be a complete mystery and you can spend the entire game trying to coax the truth out of her. However you roll, Subaru looks pretty good in a suit, or a dress, or a kimono. She also likes paper fans reinforced by steel razors.
As you can probably guess, being a perfectionist genius means Subaru has zero social skills and zero patience for other people. She will frequently trash talk you in the beginning of the game to a nauseating degree.
Random Star: Subaru probably has the coolest mech in the game. It uses giant weaponized paper fans for an area attack, stands at attention when not active, and moves around Flash Step style. Yeah, that's a TV Tropes link. I can't think of another way to describe it. Sorry.
Here's the token loli character. She's a ten year old bounty hunter that uses gold and silver revolvers. There's a black hole where her stomach should be so she's a big eater. In the event that she can't find any food, she has a backup plan to eat her pet ferret Niccolo. Loves Pancakes. Hates bad guys (which is a broad term for her). For the most part, she solves all her problems with a hail of lead and fires at the slightest provocation.
I guess she's not as annoying as you would think. Her voice actor puts on a tolerable Spanish accent (much better than Gemini's accent anyway). Has a weird phobia of failing others due to some family history involving her father and a raging river. At least her gold and silver revolvers are pretty cool. But Revolver Ocelot she is not. Don't expect any awesome gun tricks.
Shooting Star: HA! Get it? Shooting Star! Cause she uses guns! Yeah. Even with that terrible pun, her mech wields some pretty badass double barreled revolvers the size of bicycles. I'm not sure how it works, but long range is always nice in a fight.
Lady. Doctor. Doctor lady. Diana will be your healer for the game. She's kind of sickeningly nice when you first get to know her. She loves birds so offering up fried chicken is a bad way to break the ice. Vegetarian. Not to mention she's kind of a friend to all living things and birds crowd around her Disney style. This is explained in her introductory chapter and you can take it as you will. For the most part, Diana is a wallflower who is more into peace than war and would probably faint if someone sneezed on her. Also a big fan of dollhouses.
As nice as Diana is, her "sad" expression is one of the best in the game. Maybe I just find it cathartic since she comes off holier than thou.
Silent Star: Her blue mech uses magic water as weapons. Okay. It's more like water at such a high pressure it can cut steel. She's not into guns and swords so I guess it's the least she can do. Her armor is also about as durable as tissue paper so she's a conscientious objector to the very core. Also, steam powered robotic birds!
Ratchet here is more of a guest star party member. You only see her in combat during the tutorial and one other time. She starts out as captain of Star Division before having some problems with her spirit energy and becomes mission control...
Okay, I can't stand it. Her last name is identical to Altair from Assassin's Creed. Do you know what her mech's weapon is? Throwing knives. Yeah. Throwing knives! The only thing missing is an option to stab a demon mech in the face with a wrist blade and it would be a blatant reference. Without it though... it's just a coincidence. A damn eerie coincidence.
She looks nice in a suit though.
Silver Star: Ratchet uses a silver-ish mech. Like I said before, it uses throwing knives. I guess all the other weapons were taken at that point.
If you're curious, I went with Subaru because I like mysteries and black hair. There's also other supporting characters like people who help run the theater and Michael Sunnyside. He manages Star Division from behind a desk. He's also way into Japan and has a house in the middle of Central Park. Because he's filthy stinking rich. He also has bottomless nicknames for Shinjiro.
Other Stuff (...like Combat)
When you're not chatting it up with your pilots and other people, you do combat missions. It's turn based but moving and attacking is more like Valkyria Chronicles. Everyone has an action gauge they spend by moving, attacking, healing, and using special attacks. This gauge often changes in size depending on how your team is feeling. If someone isn't properly motivated, they'll have less of a gauge and won't get much done. If they're in the zone though, they can skip halfway across the battlefield and rip an enemy a new one.
The gauge is separated into blocks and certain actions use more blocks than others. Defending, for instance, only works if you have two blocks in your gauge. If you only have one, you'll just have to leave your rear exposed until the next turn. Attacking only uses one block, and you can chain five in a row. The tutorial is pretty good about spelling this all out. Best of all, it's optional if you've already cut your teeth on this kind of thing.
Ground combat is what you would expect. But there's also flight combat. All the Stars can transform into a flying mode when taking on enemies that are the size of Godzilla or King Kong. Most of this takes place in cylindrical shaped battle areas (with the boss in the middle). So it's more like flying around a key target instead of free flight like All Range Mode from Star Fox 64 or straight up combat sim Ace Combat. There are a few variations on this cylinder style flight, but for the most part it handles like ground combat except it's a pain in the ass to target things in this mode. The game gets picky on deciding when you're in proper range of enemies. Battles are not very hard, but they're long. Not to mention, if Shinjiro gets killed it's game over regardless how well your other teammates are doing.
Combat gets more complicated with Command Styles that shift the emphasis on attack, defense, and balance. This often changes the amount of blocks it takes to do things like defend, charge, etc. Since you can shift this at any time as long as it's Shinjiro's turn, you can abuse it if you want to. It's not gamebreaking, but it helps.
I said before that I'm kinda blown away this game was even released in the US (for two consoles no less). Mercifully the Wii version doesn't try to force any motion controls and it's all just good old buttons and analogue sticks. You do some screen pointing, but that's about it. The game does suffer from a criminally small soundtrack. Expect to hear the same handful of tunes over and over again until you develop Pavlovian reactions to them. There's also a lot of cinematics for special attacks and boss intros that might wear on you overtime. Good news is that you can kind of skip them (more like shorten them just a bit). The instruction manual mentions you can skip cut scenes.... after you beat the game once. So there's that too.
This is probably more text than the game deserves... but it's kinda charming in a weird way. Probably because I knew what to expect and wasn't disappointed. That doesn't keep a lot of it from being cringe worthy. But I don't know where else you'd find such an odd mix of theater productions and steam powered mechs.
Past Expiration is my little term for talking about a game way past its prime. In this case, it's about a game that defies explanation that originally came out on the GameCube in 2005. Topical!
Killer7 (What The Hell?: The Game)
The main reason I'm blogging about Killer7 is that I found it for 9 dollars online, brand new, for the GameCube and played through it again. It's one of those games that... hell... where do I even start? From the style to the gameplay to the story, Killer7 refuses to fall into any easy category. For that reason, it's probably one of the most polarizing games I've ever seen. Whether you love it or hate it, there are TONS of reasons for both sides. To be straight up, I love this game for its endless quirks and style. One thing that Killer7 isn't short of, it's personality. And blood. Lots and lots of blood. This doesn't make it any less weird, but it does make it one unique experience.
...if you can stomach the gameplay I suppose.
What It's About (I Guess)
To get started, you play as the Smith Syndicate (a gang of assassins) contracted by the United States Government to eliminate the Heaven Smiles terrorist organization. Heaven Smiles are grotesque smiling creatures that attack via suicide bombs in order to kill, destroy, and create terror for the sake of creating terror. They chime in with very distinct laughter right before they explode. Oh, except this is a weird future Earth where the world is at peace, commercial air traffic has been discontinued, and every continent is connected by super expressways. As Harman Smith, you control seven different personalities with different skills to take down Heaven Smiles wherever they may be. The other personae you play as have weapons like scoped pistols, knives, grenade launchers, revolvers, and a pair of semi-automatics that can dump like no one's business.
And that's the simple version.
One of the strengths and weaknesses of this game is how utterly complex (or garbled) everything is concerning the story. On top of assassins fighting monsters, there's a political conspiracy between East and West (US and Japan), personality disorders, and an eternal duel between Harman Smith and the leader of the Heaven Smiles, Kun Lan. They might be godlike entities. Maybe. Attempting to wrap your head around everything that goes on in one playthrough is just about impossible. Killer7 achieves that movie-like status of making repeated playthroughs more appealing as you notice things you didn't before and attempt to connect events together. It's also fair if you feel it's just one asspull after another, becoming a jumbled mess of fifty different plot threads.
However, I like how goddamn strange and striking the whole experience is. It really requires your attention, and hanging on presents you with some pretty cool cutscenes. Some great characters too. The mission involving Andrei Ulmeyda is probably my favorite part of the game. There's also the completely despicable Curtis Blackburn who must be seen to be believed. He does some completely rotten shit with children to give you a small idea.
I have some of my favorites scenes in the links below. I'd almost post the whole game with a little less restraint. In another time and place, I might say they were spoilers. But without context (even with context) you'd have to try pretty hard to hurt the narrative.
Playing Killer7 is just about as weird as the story. It's some hybrid of a rail shooter and an FPS with character leveling. While third person, the camera is very classic Resident Evil style. You can only move around on set tracks, but you go at your own pace and can choose to branch off or backtrack whenever you want. This gives the game plenty of opportunity for dramatic camera angles or low shots of your character running. When it comes to fighting, you aim and shoot FPS style.
Heaven Smile enemies start out invisible but they give themselves away with hideous laughter. You have to scan the environment in order to locate and shoot them. Every single one of them has a weak point that can kill them in one shot. This gets more complicated as the game goes on and Smile tactics get more erratic and dangerous. Killing Smiles gives you blood that you can use to upgrade six of the seven Smith personalities. Add on top of that special abilities for each character, and damn, it looks like there's a lot to keep track of.
And there is, but the game is pretty good about helpful hints and reminding you (just about every single time) what character can tackle the next obstacle. Anytime a major enemy appears, there's a guy that appears to give you hints about what's going to happen. It's never a straight info dump, as the support characters go off on tangents and play to their own personalities.
Now, the buttons to get all this done is pretty awkward compared to today's standards. You don't use the control stick to move around. You hold the A button like driving a car. If you want to turn around, you press B. Aiming and Shooting is simple enough, but if you're expecting to whip around modern shooter style guns blazing... you will be SORELY disappointed. It takes... getting use to. But it's not impossible. I had adjusted by the second mission. Still it's a legitimate stumbling block.
Shoot to Kill, Unload to Reload
Shooting styles between the various characters is really well done. One of my favorites is Coyote Smith. He holds his revolver upside down and sideways. Recoil pushes your aim down instead of up. It's a completely ridiculous... but it makes killing things an accomplishment. There's also Con Smith, a blind teenager that uses a pair of semi-automatic pistols. He can pour bullets on targets at the cost of accuracy. Shoot fast enough and sometimes sheer quantity will take care of your problems in a hurry. He also reloads his guns by some sort of hackey sack motion by kicking magazines off his feet. All the characters have some sort of stylish way to reload their guns (with the exception of Kevin who uses throwing knives). Killer7 makes reloading an art style even if it's nowhere near physically possible. These aren't exactly normal people anyway.
I feel like I should mention that on rare occasions you'll use Harman Smith (an old man in a wheelchair). His weapon is an Anti-tank Rifle. It's that kind of game.
Bosses are also made interesting by the sheer variety. At one point, you fight a pair of old Japanese men with their heads blown to pieces. They attack by throwing brains at you. There's also a French black ops dude, an boss you kill by shooting his afro, and a showdown with a group similar to the Power Rangers. Most of the time with no explanation given. Confusion is natural with Killer7.
"I don't follow."
Most, if not all, of the time it will feel like Killer7 is going out of its way to punch your brain. But that's what makes it so great. It's worth it to see all the non sequiturs and there is enough plot you can follow that when you get to the end, it feels fulfilling. The gameplay is pretty bewildering. If there's one stumbling block in Killer7, it would be that. If you can deal with it, you're in for a ride.
It also has some cool game completion bonuses. It won't make anything less crazy, but there is a tommy gun involved.
I thought it was funny, and a little lame, that there was an achievement for beating Reach by yourself on the hardest difficulty. I've always had to beat Halo games on the hardest difficulty alone because everyone else was smart enough to stay away or play on Normal or Heroic where it's actually fun. Actually getting rewarded for it is a little more "Congratulations! Moron." than "How Awesome are you?" considering how many times I died. I wanted to put my thoughts down in a blog because Legendary gives you a lot of time to think between deaths.
How It Works Not as bad as you might think. It's not the hardest Legendary Halo game I've played, but far from the easiest. The only weapons you really need is the DMR (or the awesome Needler Rifle) and the Plasma Pistol. Distance is your one and only friend in this difficulty. Forget everything else. Headshots from far away is the only method for wading through the truckloads of Elites and Brutes they dump on you throughout the game. The Plasma Pistol is a great way to deal with white armored Elites and their bullshit Concussion Rifles. Overload their shields, then fire a bullet between their eyes. Or any Elite really. Fuck all those guys.
One of the most frustrating parts of this mode is anytime the game forces you to start with an Assault Rifle. I feel like it's giving you a toothpick and saying "NOBLE SIX! TAKE DOWN THAT WRAITH!" The Assault Rifle of the Halo series is one of the most useless guns I've ever seen in any game really. Even when you're using it on Grunts, the lowest form of enemy in the game, it takes WAY too long. If you try to shoot serious enemies, you can watch as it does absolutely no damage to their shields and they kill you instantly with plasma fire. You know what weapon you start the last level in the game with? The Assault Rifle. F' that S'.
Even the Checkpoints are Out to Get You Considering the high chances of death on Legendary mode, the problems of this game's checkpoint system come in loud and clear. Sometimes there are hot zones where you can get the game to checkpoint over and over again. Little pockets under stairways or in corners. I found a few on New Alexandria in the hospital that came in handy. But most of the time the game is terribly uneven. Sometimes I can kill three Elites, six Grunts, a Hunter and a Jackal only to die by some plasma grenade and have to fight through the same group over again. Sometimes I can shoot one Grunt and trigger a checkpoint in the most random places. I found myself running around areas without enemies desperately trying to trigger a checkpoint zone. The worst area had to be the last level with the first group of Covenant around the bridge in the very beginning. Fighting through these guys over and over again because the game wouldn't checkpoint my progress (even in a safe zone) was washing the nice feelings I had for this game down the gutter.
Halo: Reach, The Comedy Legendary turns the somewhat serious drama of an entire planet getting wiped out into a comedy. When the game starts out, your new boss, Carter is all like "No Lone Wolf stuff, we're a team." But you're the only one that gets anything done. You as Noble Six take down parades of Elites while your team flounders about uselessly. Hey Emile, how long did it take to kill that Elite? Five minutes? But he uses the shotgun all the time! Jun, is even worse. He has a Sniper Rifle. The best tool to headshot aliens in the game. It takes him dozens of magazines to kill a grunt. Are these guys doing this on purpose? Is that why Emile drives five miles per hour through a field of Scarabs? Noble Six seems WAY overqualified for this team.
Also, a laugh track should kick in every time you pick up an Assault Rifle. Or actually, every time an assault rifle is on screen. You know why Kat died? The team was using Assault Rifles. Coincidence? I don't think so.
Fun? Well, the hardest difficulty on any game really isn't about fun. A rare few games can mash fun and challenge together. Reach is too busy being extremely cruel, but there are a few exceptions. The best levels were "Long Night of Solace" for that sweet space combat section (that wasn't really hard even on Legendary), and "New Alexandria" because you get to feel like a badass by flying around a fucking fantastic gunship and dumping on alien fools stupid enough to mess with you. You're practically a killstreak. Guys call you in and you wreck shit. It's awesome. Not even Legendary difficulty could screw that up. I wish the whole level was just you flying around destroying things.
The Worst Anytime an Elite appears with a Concussion Rifle. There's also a Brute with a Fuel Rod Cannon in the last mission that will haunt my dreams forever and ever. This asshole specializes in dropping in Batman style and killing me with explosive green snot globs. He's never in the same place twice when I respawn. Trying to track him down only means that he finds and kills me sooner. He's unofficially the last boss of the game as far as I'm concerned. I had problems with him on Heroic, and on Legendary he was a god damn Nemesis. The Anti-Noble Six. I only killed him because I got lucky with a Gravity Hammer and pounded him into oblivion. Why they felt it was necessary to give him shields I'll never figure out.
Your Thoughts If you've read this far down, I'd love to hear your take on the Legendary Campaign, or any funny things that happen. It seems unlikely I'll ever play Legendary co-op considering how random Matchmaking is (pulling a campaign level at random? Huh?), but if you've had other people along for the ride. I'd love to hear that too.