By Sparky_Buzzsaw 13 Comments
It's the blog your mothers warn your of-age sisters about. That's right, babycakes, it's Sparky's Update. This week, I'm going to give Divinity II all the time I think it deserves in my final thoughts on the game, as well as talk your ear (eyes?) off about Crisis Core. While my experience with Tomb Raider Legend has been brief, I'll try to sum up some early thoughts. I'll also be covering my brief love affair with the latest Rifts books that I've picked up, and I'll continue covering bits of random nonsense as I see fit.
All You Need to Know About Divinity II
I beat it. Don't play this game. The end.
OK, so it's not as bad as that. Hell, it even had the makings of a decent game in its first half. But when you obtain the Battle Tower, everything goes completely awry in that game. The ending does have a pretty good twist that leads nicely into the expansion, but let me put it this way - by that point, I didn't give a shit if the ending was Shakespearean, let alone the half-good oasis in the desert of shittiness that it was. By that point, the paper-thin plot, godawfully tight and repetitive exploration, and terrible dragon transformation elements wore me down to a point when I was literally saying out loud, "When will this just end?"
Do yourself a favor. If you play this game, stop when you get your Battle Tower. Pretend that's the end of the game. Or even better, go out and find copies of Divine Divinity and Beyond Divinity, both of which were loads better than this. You deserve better than this.
Nathan Drake Before the Sex Change
Once upon a time, children, the tomb raidin' wasn't done by a charming, smarmy guy and his uncomfortably attractive female partners (seriously, Chloe, call me sometime if you become real, mmmkay?). Instead, it was done by a woman with square and triangular looking body parts that, if you squinted really hard, looked vaguely and grotesquely feminine. She was, of course, Lara Croft. While I don't claim to have the deepest attachment to the rest of the games, I did play and enjoy the first title in the series. It was a fun puzzler with some neat set-pieces and a heroine the likes of which we really hadn't seen in games until then.
Fast forward a whole bunch of years, and here I am in 2012, catching up on the latest of Lara's forays into tombs with the PS3 collection of Legend, Underworld, and Anniversary. I haven't picked up or seen a Tomb Raider game since that original one, but I'd heard these latest ones were pretty good and the price point over the Black Friday sales (around $15) seemed perfect. I'm only about four levels into Legend, and I can already tell you that the purchase was justified. It's a solid, good game with some minor quirks.
The first thing I was surprised about was how fluid the movement felt. I remember old Lara being a lot clunkier than this, and I sure am pleased. Not all the movement is spot-on - sometimes jumping from wall cracks or poles can be a bit frustrating and inaccurate, but for the most part, there's a fair amount of grace and fluidity to everything going on. The combat is remarkably fun - another thing I remember distinctly not liking about the original. Sometimes enemies can be bullet sponges, but given that the pistols have infinite ammo (smart thinking on the developers' part) and that there are apparently upgrades to the pistol along the way (haven't figured that bit out yet), I don't think this is much of a problem. I particularly like how the tomb raiding is broken up with some action scenes. There's a really nice flow to the game so far, and the story, while a little vanilla, is told with an infectious fervor and enthusiasm.
There is one bone-headed mistake, though, and that's in the fact that the game quick saves BEFORE cinematics are shown. It can be super frustrating to have to sit through these brief interludes before jumping back into the action, especially when I need to run from a threat. It screws with the flow of the action, and being able to skip only about half the cinematics really kind of adds to the irritation. The QTE's aren't great either, but at least the onscreen buttons are usually huge.
All in all, I'm having fun with it. I plan to finish up Legend, take a break with a different game, then come back to Anniversary and Underworld seperately. All in all? Lara's aged pretty well.
What If... It Was Zach Braff Rather Than Zack Fair?
Aw shit. I'd probably play that too. Damn, I hate admitting that.
When thinking about Crisis Core, I have this image in my head of the world's biggest asshole making Dairy Queen Blizzards with chunks of sour candies rather than sweet, delicious M&M's, peanut butter cups, or Butterfingers... oh, man, I'd love some ice cream right about now. So good... huh? What's that? Oh, yeah, video games.
Massive spoilers ahead.
For the most part, Crisis Core is the delicious vanilla ice cream in that Blizzard. The gameplay is rock solid action-RPG fare. It introduces a neat leveling system based on random slots in combat. If two numbers add up, your various equipped materia can level. If you get straight 7's, your character gains a level. Neat-o. It adds a lot of fun and randomness to the combat, and it rewards a lot of materia shuffling.
Another cool element is the materia fusion system, wherein you can take two materia and mold them together for more powerful bonuses or a change in materia type. Adding an item to the mix further increases the bonus, and there are a ton of materia to combine and play with. It's a rewarding system, and since most materia is easy to obtain, it allows the player a great deal of freedom. This is a system I wouldn't mind seeing make a return in future Final Fantasy games.
But the real draw of the game for a Final Fantasy nut like me is in its nostalgia. This is pure fan service, through and through. Seeing places like Midgar and characters like Aerith and Cloud warms me down to my bones. I still consider Final Fantasy VII to be one of my absolute favorites (even if it has been technically surpassed), and this game managed to hit on a lot of pleasure centers in my brain. Unsurprisingly, some of the best moments for me lie in the game's music, which smartly updates the FF7 themes while avoiding too much tinkering. Aerith's theme still is the standout, while updated versions of Shinra's and Sephiroth's evil themes made my inner child grin ear from ear. The game's killer CGI drives the nostalgia home. Aerith's CGI is my standout favorite (I guess at this point it's pretty clear to my readers that I greatly enjoy Aerith as a character, both in FFVII and here), but there are some stellar moments with Cloud too, especially the ending cinematic. And oh lordy, seeing ol' Sephiroth in the flames of Nibelheim again... man, that just sealed the deal on how much I knew I emotionally liked this game.
All that said, though, we haven't covered the Blizzard's sour candies. I abhor the story between Zack, Angeal, Genesis, and Sephiroth. As a matter of fact, almost all of the non-FFVII moments were pretty awful in comparison. Genesis is one of the series' worst antagonists, a complete one-note joke of a character who never comes close to licking Sephiroth's bootheels (and I don't consider Sephiroth to be a particularly outstanding villain). Angeal, Hollander, and Lazarus, the other "biggies," are never given time to flesh out as characters. The locations other than Nibelheim and Midgar felt too restrictive and linear, with little to no interaction with any of the places. The English translation could be spotty, though some of this might just be the fault of the script itself. One example is during one of Zack's special attacks, when he calls upon Tseng. In a moment of complete Japanese incomprehensibility, Tseng growls, "Is this the end?" to which Zack responds with, "I'm trying! I'm trying!" Now, I'd be lying if I said this really bugged me all that much, since I've seen it in a dozen JRPG's before, but it's one of those things that really should be addressed somewhere down the line if Japan decides to bring a focus back to JRPG's in the west.
As it stands, I'm super glad I played Crisis Core. It reminds me that while I'd happily play a remake of Final Fantasy VII, I really want to see the series return to the careful love it once gave all of its characters and settings. I want to see a much-needed dose of creativity and care in Final Fantasy XV. And most importantly, I want Square to care about its games as much as it cares about its dollar bills. I don't know what I'll play next on my PSP, be it a PS1 classic or another PSP RPG. We shall see.
Books and Other Nonsense
-I have a small Christmas tradition wherein each year, if I have the money, I buy myself a Palladium Books Christmas grab bag. Quick explanation - you essentially send them a wishlist of sorts of the books they publish as well as if you'd like artwork, t-shirts, or other swag. For about $35 plus shipping, they then send you a random selection of books and swag from your wishlist totalling about $80-90 value. It's an awesome deal with a nice little element of surprise. This year, they extended the sale until late January, and I managed to snag one at the last minute. Among the books they sent me was Dead Reign, a new zombie pen-and-paper RPG they've released over the last few years. Very cool stuff, and if you're interested in this sort of thing, it's a great setting with some neat ideas. I don't actually play pen & paper RPG's, but I've loved Palladium's Rifts books since I was a little kid. They are a lot of fun, and creatively, very inspiring. I'd highly recomend Rifts and Dead Reign, but their other books are pretty cool too.
-Borderlands 2 in late September! That's a lot earlier than I expected, and I'm super stoked.
-Don't let your entitlement carry you away to the point where you'd slander and verbally defile a woman. I don't care what she said in 2006, I don't care how you feel about Bioware. Don't be an asshole.
-Just a reminder - I'll be starting an RPG retrospective sometime later this year, and have posted a list of game I either own or can easily purchase. If you have any games from that list that you'd like to see me cover in detail, hit me up with a comment on that list. It's still a long ways down the line, but I welcome any and all input ahead of time to help me plan out a strategy for attacking the games.
And that's about it. Whew. Long blog today. Rest your little doggies, hit me up with comments and thoughts below, and keep on having fun.