By Video_Game_King 9 Comments
Look at that: a game that you might actually know something about, for once! If you don't, here's all you need to know: lots of people credit Tokimeki Memorial with launching the dating sim genre. That's right: Japanese developers the Japan over looked at Tokimeki Memorial and thought to themselves, "Man, I could definitely make a better game than that." I know that sounds obvious in the wake of any successful video game, but Tokimeki Memorial really does leave a lot of room for improvement.
Of course, for there to be room for improvement, there has to be some initial promise of quality, which Tokimeki Memorial readily provides. There are a lot of memorable girls roaming the halls of Tokimeki High, and the premise encourages you to get to know them in greater detail. But alas, this promise remains unfulfilled. Despite the game's length, you never come to know any of the girls past your initial impressions of them. It's almost like Tokimeki Memorial has this really good idea, but doesn't quite know what to do with it. It's disappointing. Nothing more.
Except for the billions of words I'm going to list here. For instance, the characters! You're going to meet so many of them. Only counting the ones with breasts, there's a character who speaks English at random intervals, a character who's all poops and smiles, a character who's practicing rather hard for a spot on the Space Channel Five news team, a character who has no problems dissecting your brain, and oh so many more. As I hope I made clear, they're all just bristling with personality, inviting you to hear their stories. Or something like that. Everybody emotes, too, and while their range of emotions is indeed limited, it's more than enough to make them feel like living, breathing people. I can't wait to get to know them better.
Too bad that never really happens. Seems strange, doesn't it? I mean, you go out on dates with these girls quite frequently over the course of the game. Just what the hell are you doing during those dates? You select some place to date, usually arrive there late, she asks a question, you respond, and then the date's pretty much over. If that doesn't sound conducive toward building personality or relationships, that's only because it isn't. You don't have to know much about these girls to make them happy on a date. Maybe one of their interests or what an asshole might say (this is easier to figure out than you'd think), but that's about it. True, there are opportunities to better familiarize yourself with whomever you happen to be dating. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to access said opportunities. They seem to trigger under specific conditions that don't make themselves apparent, or may very well be random. Until you meet those conditions....well, I hope you like first impressions, because you're not going any deeper.
The actual mechanics of play don't make things any better. If anything, they make things worse. For instance, let's consider dating strategies. You meet a girl and you're attracted to her personally. You decide that you'd like to start seeing her more often and now you've made a very big mistake. You didn't think about the other girls, did you? See, they're all vindictive bitches, and if you don't pay them any attention, they're gonna spread rumors that you've been beating them. And the love of your life will believe every last one. I am not making any of that up, even if it doesn't make a lot of sense. If you want to win a girl's heart, you're gonna have to date around, even if that goes against the spirit of the game. If you're dating so many women at once, doesn't that make it more difficult to form a lasting relationship with any one of them? Wouldn't you end up with only the barest idea of what these women are like? It's like the game's encouraging me to view the girls as mere objects. I'm dating them more to make myself happy rather than to form some greater emotional bond or obtain something longer lasting out of the experience.
At this point, I'm tempted to talk about how the statistic management feeds into all this. However, I feel I've made my point. (Besides, it'd only make the same point from an easier to justify perspective.) In the end, Tokimeki Memorial's ultimately focused on being a video game, which is the wrongest choice possible to make in this specific context. As an experience, Tokimeki Memorial should be about meeting a girl and forging a strong emotional bond between the two of you. As a game, it's about jumping from girl to girl, fawning over the cold numbers, and maintaining emotional distance. But that doesn't make the game callous; just the result of misguided efforts. I mean, you could always do worse. You could always be Princess Maker.
Oh, and there's also some weird-ass RPG mini-game that sometimes pops up for absolutely no reason. You can probably ascertain why I didn't mention it in the blog.
- Man, who thought somebody would take a joke from Adventure Time and turn it into a game?
- Actually, that works on its own.
You know you've wanted to see it. Even if you didn't, you knew.
What's the opposite of a healthy romantic relationship? That's right: zombie vampires! I know that I've covered this game before, but in between stuff like Star Wars and Wonder Momo, I needed at least some promise of quality, and Legacy of Kain delivers on that promise. Sure, the combat might err a bit close to the simple side, but everything else about the game's really good. You've got a wonderfully told story, (somewhat) thoughtfully planned puzzles and did I mention zombie vampires?
Let's start with the story, since it's the fastest way to get to the zombie vampires. Hell, that's how the story begins. In walks Raziel, a vampire lieutenant who looks like an emo version of the new Dante. Unfortunately, Kain's a fan of the older games, and he expresses his opinion by casting Raziel into the Lake of the Dead for thousands of years. Now Raziel's off on a quest for revenge amidst the ruins of Nosgoth, unraveling the mysteries and conspiracies regarding the world's decline. Don't expect me to hold much of an opinion on those mysteries, though. All I can say is the plot's very well structured and the ending sucks its fair amount of ass. Unlike the dialogue. The dialogue sucks minimal amounts of ass. Everybody speaks as though they're in a Shakespearean play, bandying about soliloquies and dialogues with the heft of a titan. As I hope that demonstrated, the writing is carefully tended to and lends a lot of weight and importance to what's happening in the story. It's like playing a stage production, only you have glaucoma.
Surprisingly, that's not Soul Reaver's greatest strength. No, that honor belongs to the world. It's amazing how much craft (and grey and brown and blue/green) has gone into creating this world. Nosgoth is utterly decrepit; barely clinging to life. Vampires have infested every last crevice they could find, and they mirror the world's feral degradation all too well. Even Raziel himself moves about the world like a scavenger feeding off whatever scraps he may. Only the mere impressions of an age long dead remain. And this one guy with a flamethrower, for some reason. I don't have much of a clue what he's doing there. But other than that, the world design's amazing. It does a fantastic job of drawing you in and making you want to see just what the hell happened to this place. Clearly, a lot of craft went into creating Soul Reaver's world.
The only real problem I have is actually exploring said world, surprisingly enough. You'd think that such a well-designed world would give you decent motivation to comb through it, but alas, that is not the case. You're only going to find weapon upgrades that you never really need and some health upgrades you could do without. Not exactly the greatest motivation to dig through the ruins. But even if it was, the game doesn't make exploration terribly easy. That grey/brown aesthetic might connote death really well, but it also makes everything look exactly the same. All of Nosgoth is but a labyrinth, and not in a good way. Jumping's also a hassle. Raziel has such a crippling fear of heights that he'll launch himself off platforms as soon as he's on them, which isn't the best of traits to have in a world with as many platforms as this one. I'd say that Soul Reaver's appeal lies more in the sights it offers rather than in actually exploring those sights, but exploring the world is what gives it the sense of death and emptiness that makes it so damn good. This is quite the conundrum.
And then you have the block puzzles. They're....weird. I don't exactly like them, but I can't place why. It's not for a lack of challenge. While none of the puzzles stumped me for too long, they still require a good deal of thinking. Some of them even require very careful attention to detail. Light shining through a window, precise environmental layouts, stuff like that. And it's not something to do with their place in the world, either. I mean, the developers clearly tried working them into the world. Most of the time, you're restoring frescoes or reassembling pipework, both of which somehow unlock a nearby door. I guess that's the core problem I have: no matter how much effort the developers put into working these block puzzles into the world, they simply don't fit. (Pun not intended.) Giant cubes simply announce their presence in a way that nothing else in the game matches. This isn't as bad as Tokimeki Memorial was above; the block puzzles don't contradict anything the game's trying to achieve. I guess they just add another layer of ridiculo-OH, wait, now I remember. The game has you fight enemies while you're working on these puzzles, almost like it's punishing you for solving these puzzles at a regular pace. Real dick move, Soul Reaver.
Which brings me rather nicely to the combat. Remember how the block puzzles are fun to solve, but don't entirely fit with the world? If you don't, then your short term memory must be completely and utterly fried. But my point was that the combat's exactly the opposite: it has a lot of story value, but isn't terribly fun to play through. Let's start with that first one. What are you fighting in Soul Reaver? Feral vampires, basically. They show absolutely no signs of intelligence or humanity; they lash out at you because of their animal instincts. Not that you're much better. You have to eat to survive the dangers that face you, and if that means tearing a dude's face off, so be it. Combat is something to be dealt with rather than something to be anticipated with glee. Still, it adds volumes to the game. It really brings to life the sense that the world is only barely clinging to life.
Game-wise, though? Things aren't looking so well. You can only dig your claws into an enemy in so many ways, so every encounter comes to feel very similar. You whack a vampire about a couple times and then impale them on the nearest pointy object. Repeat until monotony ensues, and then repeat a bunch more times for good measure. The fights against your vampire brothers aren't much better. Most of them amount to little more than "do this thing", maybe with a side of "get sent to the spectral plane because you didn't do this thing". Doesn't make a lot of sense when the story revolves around these guys, does it?...............You know what? I'm ending the blog there. By now, you should have a good idea what I think of this game. Besides, the abrupt ending here should prepare you for the abrupt ending in the game.
- To be or not to be a zombie vampire; that is no question.
- I think I made a Fragile Dreams reference back in the original blog from two years ago. It still stands.
- And then there are some block puzzles and combat to deal with.
- As long as I'm ending things with Adventure Time references...