(Welcome back, television audience.) This week on Renegade Ego, the King experiments with everything under the sink. However, he learns an important lesson, as he is teleported to a terrifying realm where logic is not welcome and excitement and joy are brutally oppressed. This realm is known as an Abomination Lacking Fun; to humans, it is ALF.
It all starts with an unfunny TV show about ET and Snuffleupagus birthing a bastard child that loves nothing more than eating pussy and ends with a game about the same. But more important than any of that is how the game makes absolutely no sense. I guess with a premise like that, it's par for the course, but it doesn't exactly bode well for a game based entirely around puzzle-solving. For instance, how do you get through the basement without those pesky bats bothering you? By swinging salami at them, of course! Because that's a sane answer anybody would think of. Throw in a lack of direction, some unclear controls, and naturally, this should be a hard game, right?
Well, not really. There are two things to mention about this: first, this is a really short game. Really short, you guys. This means there aren't a lot of options you have at any given time, limiting both your choices and any semblance of challenge. Second, death. Surprisingly (or perhaps unsurprisingly, given your levels of cynicism), killing this turd-puppet-monster is the best part of the game. Should....OK, when you kill Alf, you're simply returned to the beginning of the current area, losing absolutely no progress whatsoever. It's not a good sign for your game when players not only want to kill the playable character, but benefit from it.
Then again, there's nothing good about this game in the first place. Now I know that sounds redundant, but it's my way of transitioning into the non-puzzling elements about the game. Yes, all three of them. Surprisingly, they all have three things in common. First, the controls. They're all terrible, choosing to delay your actions so you'll have a chance to reflect on all the poor decisions you've made that resulted in you playing ALF. Then again, this might be due to the bad frame-rate on a Master System game. That ought to explain why I chose not to use a screenshot of the actual gameplay for this blog. And finally, commonality number three is a theme that runs through the entirety of this game (and likely this blog). Do you know what it is, kids at home? They're all horrible.
It's pretty much every bad Flash game you've ever played.
We'll be back after a message from our sponsors.
Home Improvement The Adventures of Gilligan's Island
(We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming for something that's actually possible.) On today's episode of Renegade Ego, the King's friend...let's say @ArbitraryWater...convinces the King to experiment with everything under the sink. He should have learned to stay away from all those chemicals...but he hasn't. This time, things are different. Yes, the King trips out on cleaning chemicals, but is now transported to an isolated hell where every day is the same torturous routine. It is ruled by the seven deadly sins, but among them, one tyrant reigns supreme: that tyrant is Gilligan, and this is his island.
It all starts with a group of shit-eating grins getting stranded on an island, and....no, that's pretty much all there is to it. Yet despite that, it's surprising how much effort the developers put into making this feel like the show itself. You play episodes instead of levels, and each one begins with a setup that could have been lifted from the TV show. Reluctantly, I have to congratulate the developers on nailing the feel of the TV show. Why reluctantly? Well, look at the choice of show. Really? Gilligan's Island? You chose that show? Granted, I haven't watched the show, but this game certainly doesn't make me want to change that, what with the corny jokes, repetitive dialogue, and crap plots built around these two things. So to sum things up: Bandai wanted to make a game feel like a 25 year old TV show, and unfortunately, that's exactly what they did.
After reading the first two paragraphs of this, do you get the feeling that things are repetitive for no real reason? Well, that's The Adventures of Gilligan's Island for you. All the episodes (yes, all four of them), are exactly the same, and what's there isn't exactly exciting. First, you wander around a bit in search of a goal, because nobody ever thinks to set that up in the cutscenes before each episode. Once your goal, you bounce from castaway to castaway, doing their bidding because apparently shelter or escape aren't as important as a fucking golf ball in a tree. (That reminds me: tree climbing occurs in EVERY episode, for some reason.) At some point, the game gets fed up with this and hands you a club to beat something to death with. Now I know this might sound like something resembling fun, but that's only until you actually hit something. All the fights boil down to mashing the B button until something bleeds to death. Hopefully, it's your thumb; otherwise, you move onto the next episode. It only gets worse as the game goes on, culminating in a final level where you bounce back and forth between two NPCs like some game of human Pong. Wow, my Hell analogy from before looks very fitting, in retrospect.
Which reminds me: Gilligan. He's a feature in this game, by which I mean he occupies space on the screen. That's all he does, yet somehow, he gets far more importance in this game than he deserves. You don't even play as him; you're forced to drag the poor bastard around and wait for him to catch up every three seconds. If you decline, the game pesters you about the missing Gilligan until you get him back and can move on with the game. Sounds like fun, right? Why don't more games force you to bring along a useless companion who slows down the game immensely and pretends to be a legitimate gameplay feature? Maybe we'll find out next week on Renegade Ego.
If you've ever wanted to play through an episode of Gilligan's Island, then you're probably too implausible to exist.
Except in the story department. Now I know you haven't always been known for your compelling tales, Dragon Warrior Monsters (your older brother, on the other hand...), but come on. This just can't pass. I mean, it's so formulaic. First, Cobi goes to an alternate dimension to solve its problems. Then he gets some random object as a reward, uses it to plug up the GreatLog (because it's sinking, something islands can do), only to discover it won't work as a plug, but works well as a plot device. Repeat for a few worlds until you get sick of it and decide to end things for no adequate reason. Although to be fair to you, that's only looking at the big picture. Zoom in, and things look much better, even though no picture in the world works that way. You do, though. You populate yourself with stories of people overcoming some seriously messed up stuff, like a low-fi version of Dragon Quest IX. Always welcome. True, your obsession with demons is a tad worrying (leave it to the Megami Tenseis), but whatever. I'll take what I can get.
And with you, that's a lot. Now that's not always a bad thing, what with the various worlds to explore and tourneys and monsters to beat up. Real staying power, that. But then we get to your monster breeding, and I start getting scared. Not because you seriously considered making a gorilla fuck an apple....OK, not just because you seriously considered making a gorilla fuck an apple, but because there's sooo much to keep track of. So many stats and breeds and abilities and meta-game. Do you even realize who's supposed to be playing this game? Kids. Kids play you. Now they can put up with your ridiculously saccharine atmosphere and skeletal game mechanics. These are all things you do incredibly well. But the breeding? That's gonna scare those little guys away. Hell, I'm 375 years old, and even I was intimidated by your Moreau-esque horrors.
But, as always, I persevered, because there's something rewarding to gaming your breeding system. Yea, you take a while to get there, but when I got there, you made me feel totally unstoppable. Probably because I was. What was up with that? I mean, I love how you allowed me to set fire to every monster in sight, but why did Nap Attack destroy every single mid-game boss? And then the bosses after that take twelve hours to defeat. It's like you couldn't decide what exactly your difficulty should be. Still, though, you're a pretty cool game, Cobi's Journey. You got some neat systems in place and enough distractions in case I get bored with your bestiality. Yea, you're indecisive as all hell, but you could always be worse. At least you're not Caravan Heart.
What's with your story, bro?
You're pretty much Persona for kids. Yay.
Except you're somehow more arcane than Persona was. What?
OK, just one more Persona 4 video after this, and it's Fire Emblem for months on end.
(What is this game doing here?) I thought I'd already established that I just don't seem to like survival horror as a whole. Not many of them are scary in the first place, and with that gone, you're often left with a really bad adventure game with clunky combat on the side. Now this would be the time where I'd transition into the specifics of what I don't like about Sweet Home, but....well, I just did, didn't I? Just add some RPG elements, and you have the blog in a nutshell.
Although funnily enough, one of those RPG elements missing is the story. OK, so there is a story, but there isn't a lot of it, despite the amount of work it puts into it. Five blank slates who seem to be people are heading into a haunted house to retrieve some frescoes for reasons I can't really remember. Unfortunately, they all get trapped within five seconds of entering the house, so obviously, the most logical action is to rid the house of its evil curse. What is that curse? Well, I'm not going to spoil that (I've learned my lesson), and while it involves a lot of genuinely interesting ghost story material, most of that comes toward the end of the game, more still in the form of optional content. A lot of that content isn't even necessary (they're usually hints to puzzles you could solve half the time), so there's a good chance you're not gonna get a lot of the story this game throws your way. A shame, too, because, again, that story's got some decent, ludicrously graphic horror shit going on.
Odd, then, that I'm about to say that this game isn't scary. This game isn't scary. This game is trying hard to be scary, what with the story and the thudding sounds it calls music, but Clock Tower this is not. Why is that? Well, I could be a lazy butthole and write it off as this being an NES game that interprets a rejected Oompa Loompa design as a doll (are bad Willy Wonka references my new running gag?), but there's more to it than that. Specifically, this game is uneventful. Here's how your typical Sweet Home experience: you walk around the mansion....and walk...and walk....and HOLY SHIT, A CHAIR! IT'S A JUMP SCARE, BUT WHATEVER, IT WORKS FINE! At least when you're in the (thankfully brief, and not in an insulting manner) moment. Because the scare goes away once that chair decides to hit you, and you only take a paltry three points of damage from it. Even at the absolute beginning, this is not a lot of damage.
Hold on. What's this about RPG element whatevers? Well, turns out that not only were these elements the main gameplay mechanic in Sweet Home, but they're also kind of what's wrong with it. See, it can't decide whether it wants to be an adventure-type game or an RPG, and both aspects suffer a bit as a result. There's not a lot to the battle system, which is to say that there isn't anything to the battle system. Your only two options are to attack or to run if attacking nets you perma-death. I know that sounds tense, but given the general ease with which you can run away from most enemies, it's just kind of annoying. Same goes for curses and poison and whatever else the RPG system brings to the table. Add in a level-up system that makes you nigh invulnerable as the game goes on (although one party at a time, because there's never any reason to bring only two people into battle), and it's hard to find this game frightening on any level.
So by now, I'd write it off as your typical bad survival horror game, but there's an...anomaly....regarding this game. It must be going for some type of meta-fear, because while the actual horror elements are not horrific themselves, the puzzle elements are executed rather well. What the what? How is that even possible? Well, there are boring reasons behind this, like a decent level of challenge and clear (ish) direction, but who cares about that shit? You want more compelling reasons, and more compelling reasons I have. OK, a reason, but still: the teamwork. Each character has a specific purpose, like curing status ailments or opening doors. Now that doesn't sound impressive, but it leads to some OK puzzles and, more importantly, forces your party to stay together at all times in order to advance. You know, like they were trying to outlive some type of terror, or something similar. It'd be enough to develop a secondary emotional connection to the characters if they had any character in the first place.....That's a compliment, not a complaint.
In fact, my only complaint about these portions of the game are managing it all. I'd call them minor, but that makes me feel like I'm suffering Stockholm syndrome with this game. Anywho, playing this game is inevitably going to be cumbersome, partly because the menus are all poorly designed. Fine, everything's only a couple options away, but there are just so many options that are so necessary all the time. It could all be quicker, especially the items. Fuck, you guys. Doing anything with the items is a pain. You'd think that you pick up an item simply by pressing A in front of it, but it's never that simple. No, you're going to navigate about nine menus to pick up those matches, because that's what horror is. Same goes for the weapons, only a bit more confusing at first. I like that the game is long, but not when most of that time comes from navigating menus half the time! Even outside the menus, things don't work well. Each character only has enough room for two items, meaning the game becomes an interactive episode of Hoarders about twelve minutes in. Hope you like backtracking, because that's what this game will become! Nothing but backtracking and random encounters! The hallmarks of a great game...and Sweet Home, I guess.
There isn't a lot of story, but what's there is decent, to say the least.
Wait, a horror-themed RPG with a simplistic battle system? That sounds familiar.
General gameplay puzzles succeeding despite a clunky system, though, is all on Sweet Home.
So I guess what I'm saying is that it's Resident Evil 0.
(Even without a computer, I'm still blogging!) There's no taming this ego! OK, self-congratulation aside, let's get into the actual game. Now remember when you were a kid, and you had a friend who wanted to be a firetruck when they grew up? Not a fireman, but a firetruck? Well, that kid probably grew up to become Devil May Cry 4, because this is the stupidest goddamn game I've played in a while.
Fortunately, the game is more than happy to remind you of this every few minutes. Action-y cutscenes just ooze throughout the experience, and each one is more laughably idiotic than the last. How do you top two white-haired demon dudes having a gun fight with bullets slower than the game's intelligence? By having these two incredibly similar characters hug it out with their legs, of course! Or how about riding an enemy like a Newton-enraging sled? Throw in Hollywood hardcore rock (that's the best term I could think of to describe it) and enough cleavage to set women's rights back about half a millennium, and you have a dumb action movie where you press buttons, sometimes....which I guess is kind of the point. When you see shit like this, that's your cue to turn your brain off and just enjoy how effing silly the experience is. If you're into that sort of thing, then more power to you, I guess.
But even ignoring that, the story isn't particularly well written. It's set in a small religious town where only the important characters can afford a fleshed-out wardrobe; everybody else dresses like they're about to bash some Templar skull in, for some reason. Then demons show up, and the oddly likeable Nero fights them while trying to figure out another motive. A common problem in games, I know, but I still don't like when characters don't have a clear motivation. Why is Nero exploring this huge night castle? Is it ever explained? True, it becomes relevant later, but until then, it doesn't make a ton of sense. Meanwhile, Dante's busy exerting no major influence on the plot and generally being that guy in his mid- to-late 30s who still thinks he's in his early 20s. You're not cool anymore, Dante. You're somebody's dad, now.
Speaking of wand-wait, that wasn't what I ended on. Well, remember how I said Nero likes bumbling around a huge castle for no real reason? Well, that's a lot of what the game is: environments that exist only to fill space. I don't know, but it just feels like the environments don't serve much of a purpose to the overall game. They delay the fights instead of continue the game. Sure, you get a couple of cool areas, like the midnight snow castle that opens into the mid-day forest just a few feet away (so Chickenhead can't be far behind, although in demon presence, it goes without saying), but the fights are just so much better (more on that in a bit, though). I can't blame it for not trying, though, given all the ideas it throws in your face. Demon grapples! Board games! Time lasers! Shouting secrets! Oh dear god! When will it all end!?
When I get to the combat, because as it turns out, Devil May Cry 4 really knows how to craft a competent combat system. In fact, let me walk you through it. Start off with a pair of guns. Ignore those guns, because they are worthless. Now add in a couple of other weapons, a shitload of moves, and have at it. It may not sound like much, but DMC4 manages to do a lot with it. You'll always have a ton of flexibility in how you build your combos and how you devil-fist an ice monster, even mid-combo. (Granted, a lot of them are merely variations on "press this button a lot" or "press this button while moving the stick this way, but the point is that you still have a lot of options at any given time.) This may not sound like much, but trust me: it's pretty damn fun when you're in the groove of things, effortlessly slashing from enemy to enemy while juggling nine others.
Wait, did I say "effortlessly"? I probably shouldn't have, because this isn't the easiest game in the world. Maybe I just suck at it (OK, I do suck at it), but I seem to remember far more deaths in this game than I care to mention. It doesn't help that the game insults you for these types of things, handing out handicaps against your will and whatnot. But I can't complain about it too much, since it's the difficulty that can make the game awesome a lot of the time. Nowhere is this made clearer than the Credo fight. It represents everything I could ever love about the game: it's challenging, flows nicely, and requires lightning-quick reflexes that make you feel like a goddamn god when you slash his smug face in two. Hell, his fight is so good it easily manages to eclipse the annoying Dante fight a couple of missions later. Speaking of, I guess my only complaint would be that Dante isn't as fun as Nero, since he trades in the grapple for switching out styles (a single move, really) mid-fight. Not the best way to handle things, but whatever. Minor complaint. So maybe this game isn't so much catatonically stupid and more just an idiot savant. It's the Rain Man of the video game world, is what I'm saying.
Man, this game's story is stupid.
And the environments sure are pointless.
But then the combat brings it all together.
And somehow, I still manage to find the strangest Japanese trends on YouTube.
Where do these even come from?
Super Mario 64 DS
(Now what we have here is an interesting project for this blog....sort of.) I'm sure you all know how important this game is to gaming history. It shaped not only an entire genre, but also a lot of how developers approach 3D games, at least early in the history of that technology. So will it be possible for me to put all this context aside (since I'm not too big a fan of context) and judge it for what it is (or something close to that)? Seems like it.....OK, that doesn't tell you much about my actual opinion regarding the game, so allow me to say it more bluntly: it's pretty cool.
Wait, this is the DS version. I'm gonna have to explain a few things. The controls are cramped and a bit iffy (Mario can turn on a dime, provided said dime is a mile wide), and the touch screen sucks, but on the whole, they get the job done. Let us contrast this with the new characters, who might as well not exist. Remember how this is a remake of an N64 game that originally had only one character? Meaning it was designed to use that one character? Guess what happens over the course of the game? That's right: you'll completely ignore every new character you get. I wanted to make a joke about Luigi being Jesus if he was cast into the Lake of the Dead, but why bother? It's not like you'll ever use him and get what the hell I'm saying. Sure, there are a few stars only they can get, but that justification fell apart at the word "few". Mario's gonna be getting them all, and when he needs another character, why bother switching? Just grab one of their hats (Yoshi's bloody scalp not included for whatever reason), assume their identity, and laugh in their dumb faces for ever thinking that they could be of use in Super Mario 64 DS. (Yoshi gets some importance in the ending, oddly enough, but that's about it.)
Although that Majora's Mask "I can become them with this hat" thing is certainly going in the right direction. I mean, the dreamy portions are what make the game so awesome in the first place. I know that sounds weird, but hear me out: what are the most memorable levels in the game? That penguin race? Get out of here with that fucking shit. Swimming around in a giant skybox full of water is what makes the game so good. You know, freaky shit like that, which makes almost no sense. Of course, it doesn't always work in its favor, power-ups being the most obvious place. I could say something about how broken they are (why shoot for that star when you can lazily float over their with your fat ass?), but instead, I wish to call out the flying cap. I can understand the appeal of it, but why does flying have to be so hard. It's far too physics based, and I'm not sure you can ever really gain altitude (or at least I was never able to). What, pray tell, is so fun about merely gliding? Nothing, that's what. Still, it's the thought that counts.
If you want more boring, pedestrian reasons for why I like the levels, though, I still have those. For instance, there's usually a lot to do in each level. Most of them are open world (at least the ones that know what they're doing), giving you a lot of room to explore and mess around with whatever you find. No, I mean it: there's a lot to do in these levels. 150 stars, about 8-ish per level, and it manages to get a lot of mileage outta these ideas. Normally, this would be where I just rattle off a few examples, but all I need to say is that you'll be collecting 8 red coins all the goddamn time and no two instances will feel exactly the same, even though it is essentially the exact same goal each time. Granted, a few of these stars are pretty lazily designed (Toad will literally just hand you a couple of stars from time to time), but dude! You get to drown caterpillars and then curb stomp them. Do I need to say more?
Well, yes, I do. If I had to complain about the ga....OK, I have, but let's pretend that I've mindlessly praised it up until now. Anyway, if I had to register one major complaint against the game, I guess I'd have to go with how easy it is. It's not exactly hard to figure out how to get a star, and that's pretty much all there is to getting the star. Obviously, this means you're gonna blow through the campaign in a couple of days before moving onto something more challenging (link to next blog). The boss battle is also not challenging. I know what I said; there's really only one boss battle in the game, and it's repeated a lot. You just throw the guy or generally knock them out of the ring. That's it. Repeat it a ton, and you have Super Mario 64 DS. Or just tag alongside a penguin so a snowman doesn't blow you off his chin, because that's Super Mario 64 DS, too.
Are the remake portions really needed?
Because the base game stands well enough on its own.
Mysterious Mountainside is still everything I could love about this game.
(Long ago, I blogged about a game by the name of Blood Omen.) (OK, it was only earlier this year, but bear with it.) It looked like shit on all counts, but it had a compelling world and some cool vampire abilities, so it got a pass. I'm guessing that's the opinion everybody else holds regarding that game, because I'm not gonna be bothered to read reviews for a game I played so long ago. Oh, and it was successful enough to get a sequel several years later.
That sequel is (quite obviously) Soul Reaver, named for the sword you got for all of the last hour of Blood Omen, and it's....a confusing game to write about. I'm not trying to criticize it, but I kinda have to. I mean, I liked the game well enough, but when I think about it, there's absolutely no way this can be a good game.
Odd, then, that I start with one of the better aspects of the game: the story. But before I get into that, do any of you remember that claymation Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? Remember when the reindeer first found out about Rudolph's red nose? Well, imagine if their reaction was to contact Satan Claus so he could throw Rudolph into a vat of acid for all eternity. Now not only is this complete fact, but it's pretty much the story of Soul Reaver...but with vampires. Now Vampire Rudolph has to hunt down his brothers, kill the shit out of them, kill even more shits from Satan Claus, and bring peace back to the Norsgoth Pole. OK, now I'm lost, but what I think what I was going for was how great the world is....right? Yea, let's go with that. It seems a strong point for the Legacy of Kain games, and Soul Reaver's no different. When it tells you that Kain fucked shit up, this game shows you. Every building is in utter decay, a thick miasma hangs over the land, every single vampire looks twisted and unnatural (in a good way, this time), and it's pretty clear that they put a ton of work into making Nosgoth work.
Now I just wish that they put this much work into the story. I know that sounds strange, but hear me out: the plot itself isn't that good. OK, thematic strength about corruption of the world and the dark influences one man can exert, but that's all spread over a very thin plot. In fact, outside the synopsis I offered earlier, here's the story: Raziel (the Vampire Rudolph thing) comes back to life and decides to kill every last vampire. Then he kills every last vampire. Throw in a couple of plot points, a lazy ending (that's not spoiling anything because there's nothing to spoil), and prose so purple it could be an extra in Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and you have the Soul Reaver experience.
So already, it's becoming clear that this game is a really mixed bag, and everything else I have to say about the game isn't going to change that. For instance, I'll start saying good things about the graphics, but will eventually find myself doing the exact opposite. Let's begin: this game looks effing amazing. All the models and environments sport high amounts of detail, which I could demonstrate with pictures, but then you wouldn't see the great animations. I just love how primal and bat-like Raziel's movements are. Such attention to detail! The developers are the supreme innovators. I mean, this game came out in 1999; the industry was seven years away from everything looking utterly dull and brown! Talk about being ahead of their time, especially in demonstrating why this isn't a good idea in the first place. Making everything brown (or green, sometimes) makes everything look exactly the same and hard to distinguish, something a draw distance of two inches certainly doesn't help.
Then again, the world isn't exactly easy to navigate in the first place. Too often did I find myself wandering around the overworld, trying to figure out where exactly my goal was (despite the game being helpful about telling me where it was). True, the game gives you a few warp points to make things more convenient to navigate, but there's no way to know where exactly you're going with the damn things. Why? Because rather than being marked with words or numbers or anything identifiable, the warps are marked with...whatever the hell these are. Why would you do this, Soul Reaver guys? Sad, too, because again, this is a pretty interesting world to navigate. There's enough cool shit to keep you jumping around the brown for a while, like the fabled Fire Reaver or the fact that I just used the phrase "jumping around the brown" without a hint of irony. And that's not getting into the very memorable levels I've forgotten about because I delayed this in favor of Xenoblade. But still, guys. Drowned Abbey.
Also, block puzzles. Tons and tons of block puzzles. I'd say it's amazing how many of them there are in this game, but I find it more surprising just how well they're planned. Not their execution, mind you, since a lot of is laboriously shifting blocks about and sometimes whacking things (more on that in a bit), but the planning. They're all really clever puzzles that exercise your brain muscle, paying attention to every minute detail and whatnot. Surprisinger still is just how much mileage it gets out of these mechanics. No two puzzles are exactly the same. A lot of them are incredibly similar (flip the block until it's facing the way you need), but never exactly the same. So yea, no complaints on the block puzzles.
But quite a few for the combat. Seems rather fitting that I spend the last part of this Soul Reaver blog talking about the one part of the game where the eponymous sword is actually relevant. It also seems like for something like that, the developers would make sure it had more depth, but sadly, that is not the case. Here's how all the non-bosses in the game go: whack the enemy around a bit and then press triangle to kill them. (The only exception is without the Soul Reaver, at which point you have to look around a bit and then press triangle.) OK, so there's nothing wrong with it on a technical level, and at first, it's a bit fun, but it wears thin pretty fast. It's sorely lacking in variety; just mash the square button and then press triangle for the one execution you'll use the whole time, and you're good. But let's say you die during battle. What happens then? Well, you're immortal, so that pretty much means fucking about in the spectral realm (basically the real world with more green) until you're allowed back into the actual combat. Just....fuck. You guys see what I'm dealing with. Every single aspect of this game is contradicting itself before me. I just don't know, man. I just don't know.
It's Fragile Dreams, only with vampires instead of a plot.
And a shitton more block puzzles.
And repetitive combat.
To celebrate having just finished the Endurance Run many weeks ago, here's something we'd all prefer not to exist.
How do I fucking find this shit?
(There's only one reason I played this game.) Go ahead and guess why. I'll wait.........Give up? It's because of the word "Moon" in the title. Yes, I am an incredibly petty person. That was my only reason for playing this game in the first place. My screenshots reflect as much. I wasn't even considering the fact that it's Japan-only and uber-obscure, or that it's actually a really good game. Just the moony bits.
And then I played the game, and was utterly surprised at how much work it put into a premise I'd barely even considered. Way to show me up, game. Of course, I'm not talking about the actual story, because there isn't a lot to it. The Moon Crystal creates zombies, and you're a zombie racist douchebag butthole. Then again, when your villain looks like this, it's hard not to want to kill him. Now as that picture demonstrates, Moon Crystal puts a lot of work into telling its story, if not the actual story. Imagine if Ninja Gaiden was released three years later, and you have a good idea of what Moon Crystal's like, what with the abundance of horizontal, manga-esque cutscenes and everything. And then the game starts, and you realize it still looks amazing. There's a lot of detail to everything, and the animation is ridiculously fluid. NES games shouldn't be this smooth, damn it.
And there's good reason why: it makes the controls...less than ideal. Oh, sure, animating every frame of your character turning around looks fantastic, but it inevitably means you're going to waste a lot of time trying to face whatever's trying to ram itself firmly up your anus. This is especially troubling when the VERY FIRST BOSS OF THE GAME requires you to turn around quickly so you can hit him in the ass (this time, not a joke). Although other than that (and the fact that climbing onto platforms is just as laggy), the game controls pretty damn well. This is my way of saying that I'm going to start talking about the parts of the game I like.
But we have to build up to it, starting with the bosses. Now I'm not going to say they're boring or anything like that, because slashing a giant in the ass is never boring. In fact, that's probably why Shadow of the Colossus is as critically acclaimed as it is. No, I'm going to complain about how challenging they aren't. You have invincibility time; they do not. Do the math. There's something seriously worrying about a game where major encounters such as these are easier than whatever came before them, which is probably why the developers started fixing this problem later in the game. Mainly, the bosses start taking multiple forms, meaing you can no longer just stand right inside them and slash them nine ways from Sunday. Predictably, these are the best portions of the game, specifically because they put up a fight and offer a fun challenge.
In fact, that's one of many things the game gets decidedly right. The challenge, along with everything else. Not too hard, but they'll definitely expect something from you. Maybe it wants you to avoid murderous seagulls hellbent on your death, or perhaps it asks you to go through a previous level, only backwards and for its amusement. But you know what? You do it. You go through it because of all the cool stuff it promises you. OK, also because properly challenging games are fun in and of themselves, but what I'm saying is that this game has pretty damn cool moments and levels and everything else. I'd give some examples, but unfortunately, I wasted them earlier this paragraph, and it's hard to make "the rest of the game" sound interesting. Even though it is interesting. I guess my only substantial complaint for the game would be that it's mechanically simplistic. Just a jump, a slash, and variations thereof. Whoopee. Only given all the other words I've used to describe this game, that may be the only non-sarcastic whoopee in the history of this blog. At least until I cover this, of course.
Oh, right. This is a platformer. I probably should have mentioned that somewhere.
This about sums up Moon Crystal well enough. Yes, I have a video response for everything. EVERYTHING.
And under all that animation is a compelling platformer.
With pitifully easy boss battles for a lot of the game.
Was it the voice acting? The fear of having to dub all that dialogue?....OK, that's a legitimate complaint, and for reasons other than hammy Cockney robots. Dear goood, is this a noisy game. Now I'm not necessarily saying that there are a ton of cutscenes to plow through (although there are a lot of cutscenes), but this game does not know when to shut the fuck up. Battles quickly devolve into shouting matches, and it doesn't get better outside battle. In fact, with the right party, you can trigger long-ass conversations at the end of each battle, like the game swallowed everything in the medicine cabinet and is afraid it's gonna die if it ever stops talking. Hell, there's even an entire gameplay mechanic dedicated solely to characters yelling at each other until the game decides you've had enough. Just shut up, game! You don't need to fill every second of the experience with noise. It just gets grating and annoying really fast, overshadowing the finer aspects of the game.
Like the music. Is this really any surprise? It was composed by YokoShimomura, and it shows. She really knows how to amplify all those emotional moments in the game. Sad moments will make you depressed because you ran out of tears for crying; happy moments will make you completely forget those sad moments so you have enough tears for the next sad moment; somber moments will....do whatever the hell somber moments are supposed to do, I guess. And should you get into battle? Gear up, asshole, because shit is about to go down. (Consider my swearing a display of passion.) Overall, it's gonna take a while for another RPG to come along and beat this game's soundtrack, presumably because Ms. Shimomura's working very hard on the next hit RPG so-
Oh, wait. This is an RPG. I'm supposed to begin with the story. Well, let's pretend that the previous several paragraphs were special thanks to...uh...Yoko Shimomura, I guess. Anyway, the story. Now Xenoblade Chronicles is part of the Xeno-whatever series, a series known primarily for one thing: robots whacking each other about while waxing Nietzsche. Xenoblade is no different, deciding to finish things off with robot beatings, Nietzschean vagueries, and a plot that branches out into the worryingly insane every other cutscene. Unfortunately, that's all at the end, and to get there, you have to get through some slow-building, melodramatic cliches. Nothing terribly offensive, mind you. However let's just say that I was able to jokingly yet accurately predict lines of dialogue far more often than I'm comfortable admitting. But you know what? Persevere. Push through. It's gonna be worth it in the end. Yes, you'll end up fighting the personification of Panzer Dragoon, yet it all works. So many themes, and so many of them developed so well. Ubermensch, Gaia theory, fate, bonds with others, religion, cyclical...ness...It's all adds up in a satisfying way, is what I'm saying.
And that's not even getting into the characters. There are just so many memorable characters in this game. You got your plucky young hero Shulk, the even better hero Dunban, the "I'm too rich to inflect emotion" Melia, Kanji "Takes No Shit" Tatsumi, Holmes (who takes even less shit), etc. Again, I said that with all of Melia's enthusiasm, but the cast has more than enough chemistry to create some memorable moemnts. Better still, everybody (well, almost everybody, but more on that in a bit) gets their own piece of the story for some nice development. We start off with good buds Shulk and Reyn, move onto Sharla, then M.....it's a lot more natural than I make it out to be. There are reasons why the characters get development when they get it, and it's hard to call any of it forced or unnatural. Hell, even the villain gets one of these awesome moments, transforming him from a cliche to a being with depth and plausibility. Almost the perfect analogy for this game.
The only real bad character is fluffy comic relief Riki. I don't care how useful he is in battle (mainly because I refused to swap him in); the guy's got annoying speech patterns and...no, that's pretty much the only reason I don't like him. I know that sounds petty, but...just listen to him. (Is it racist that the most annoying character in the game is the only one without a British accent?) You may wish to stop reading this blog right now so you can replace your thoroughly burnt computer speakers. There is a bright side to this, though: the story is absolutely determined to ignore not only him, but his entire shitty species, giving them absolutely no role in the story whatsoever. Even when it looks like they're going to give them relevance with the Trinity thing, the writers snub them like the plague. Did I say it all works out in the end? Because that's all the proof you need.
Oh, wait. This is a video game. I'm supposed to talk about the game-y parts at some point, aren't I? Like the quests. Hey, why didn't I takl about the quests in this game? You'd think they'd show up earlier, since there are more quests there than there are words here. I'd say that's enough to keep you busy for a while, but that's completely ignoring what these quests are. So what are they? Let's see, there's "kill X monsters", "gather X materials", "beat this super mega monster"....uh...."run around a bit, and something about items"...."all this shit, but reskinned for a new area"...Yea, looking back on it, I can't say I like the quests that much. They're less engaging and more a side activity you distract yourself with from time to time....even though there are so many of them you'd think the game made them its main feature. Confusing, that. Still, they're a reliable fountain of experience (which you'll definitely need, given the difficulty curve and the ridiculous deprecation of enemy EXP), and you do get all other kinds of cool shit from them, so I can see why you'd want to focus on them if that's your thing.
It's not my thing, though. My thing's the battle system...kinda. You see, I'm not into the actual mechanics of battle, although they are pretty good. Here's how things work: everybody shouts at the enemy, the game starts shouting status effects at you, and you spam all your arts until you have to wait for them all to recharge so you can do it again. During that time, you kinda just let the game play itself while you keep an eye on things. OK, to be fair, that's a gross oversimplification of the situation. There's actually a lot to pay attention to at any given time, and there is some strategy in which arts you bust out when and in what order you do it. Not that it's all about the arts; you also have to manage the future and chain attacks (by ignoring them because you could be reviving people instead), and Xenoblade gets enough mileage out of all these concepts to make things compelling and fun throughout. Especially so near the end, where every other battle takes twenty minutes to finish and you end up loving the game for it. Still, though, it's hard to deny how spammy a lot of the battles can get.
So what exactly do I like about the battles? Like the story, it's the characters....except Riki, obviously. See, here's the thing: the strategy's much more in the character selection than the actual battles. You can't just slap together any old party and mash enemies to death; you need proper stat management and abilities and gems and party member roles and a billion other things. Yes, that's a lot to keep track of, but it also means a lot of room for experimentation. You know, some proper motivation to try out all those different characters and abilities and whatnot. Along with deep strategy for any given situation, of course. My only major complaint is Shulk. I'm not saying that he's a bad character, but what with his future visions and all those completely necessary Monado arts, he's sticking around for the entire game, and chances are you'll only play as him. Not a big problem, but limiting nonetheless.
CHRIST, HOW DO I STILL HAVE MORE TO SAY ABOUT THIS GAME!? What haven't I cleared out yet...the graphics! Right, the graphics. The game looks like a 3D Vandal Hearts game (except people care about it), but that's OK, because it makes the game expressive as hell. It may not look it in the game, but come cutscene time, everybody's making full use of the emotional spectrum. It really is amazing how damn expressive the characters are. Story fights aside, the facial animations are probably the best thing to happen to the visual design. Hell, they even make up for the ridiculous character design! Unlike the rest of this blog, I'll be brief about these criticisms: the women are fan-servicey and the robot peoples become too Persona-y later in the game (those last words being a spoiler warning, of course). A bit disjarring, I must admit.
Fuck, STILL MORE? What else could I possibly have? OK, so there are these things called Hearts to Hearts, and they're like support conversations, only harder to max out and generally more involved. Make for some cool moments/strange story moments and that's about it. Next up: menus are smooth, quick, and all around fantastic, but I guess to balance that out, the loading priorities for this game are kinda wonky. What do I mean by that? Start the game up, and the enemies load before your battle menu does, meaning you stand around taking damage like a dumbass until your arts pop up. Hopefully, that's the end of this behemoth.
LAST THING, I PROMISE. I forgot to mention that there are a few plot holes to deal with over the course of the story. It's hard to talk about them without spoiling the game, so I'll spoil the game.
First, less a plot hole and more just faulty wording, Shulk's major power is his ability to change the future. That's a pretty dumb power, given how anybody anywhere can do it ever. Then again, this is a pretty dumb complaint, so let's move onto the meatier criticisms.
OK, so there's this line late in the game that implies traitor-butthole Dickson is a Telethia...and then nothing becomes of it. The writers never address that there's one Telethia that looks like a giant and can become a human at will. Shouldn't that be a bit more important to the plot? The guy's a major villain at that point; I can't imagine glossing over huge details like that is a good idea. And on the subject of the giants...
How did the giants get wiped out? There are only two of them in the entire game. Were they the only two in existence? Or were they wiped out? Why isn't this ever explained? Am I just supposed to accept that Zanza created one or two giants and said "Eh, that's good. This world could use more Nopon, though"? At least with the Machina, we're told that they were all wiped out in the fight against Bionis and Mechonis. Speaking of the Machina...
Why did the Homs re-open Colony 6 as soon as humanly possible?...OK, some explanation. Colony 6 is a Mechon base of operations for a lot of the early story until Shulk and friends whip some Mechon ass. Mechon leave, Homs reclaim Colony 6, and they all survive for no explained reason. The place was sitting on top of an ether mine; you think the Mechon are going to give up an area of such strategic importance that easily? No! They're gonna come back in greater numbers and massacre any squatters hanging around. Weren't you all hiding in the first place specifically because this might happen? But that's not the worst. That belongs to...
HOW DID FIORA FUCKING COME BACK TO LIFE!? She got stabbed in the fucking stomach. How do you fix getting stabbed in nine vital organs with claws the size of I beams? And how did the Mechon drag her body back to Mechonopolis without arousing suspicion? During the inevitable clean-up, did nobody find it strange that Fiora's body was absolutely nowhere to be found? Doesn't that seem the least bit strange? I could assume that they didn't notice this immediately, since cleaning up after a major attack takes a while, but Dunban and Dickson tag up with you long after the event; I imagine that would give you enough time to notice something amiss about that whole "my sister died" thing. Granted, the game goes to great lengths to justify this plot twist, almost as if it's apologizing for doing something so stupid, but at the time, that's A LOT of disbelief to suspend. I had a hard time finding a rope strong enough for the job.
OK, we're done. I got the point across. No more Xenoblade writing. That's it. Except for the...
Desperately Needed Review Synopsis
I don't know what's better: the story or how it's presented.
Wait, I know the answer: ignoring Riki so I can mess around with other party members.
Oh, and something about sidequests and loading priorities. One of them is good, I think.
Was this Persona 4 all over again? Should I post my notes again? Because I'm sure I still have them.
For instance, the gameplay. Does it suffer the pitfalls of the survival horror genre, or does it make them entirely irrelevant? Somehow, both; it's the Schrodinger's Cat of video games, which is my way of telling you not to play it. Like Clock Tower bef....after it, Clock Tower (that Schrodinger comment is making more and more sense by the minute) is an adventure game that could use a mouse, but, for some reason, doesn't. Of course, this means that gameplay is completely slow, encumbered, clunky, and overall a pain to play. Coincidentally, that also describes the scenarios, which boil down to running around the Barrows mansion, grabbing the shiniest thing in the room and rubbing it on other in the vain hope something results of it. Granted, the game will bluntly tell you what is and isn't usable in a room, but it's still easy to miss a crucial part of the game and spend your time spraying the walls in insecticide. Yet it's not like I can fault the game too much for its gameplay. The solutions often make sense, and ham aside, all the things Jennifer picks up are things that would kinda make sense to have on her, given the situation (everything wants her dead). Besides, there's not much to this game in the first place, so it's rather difficult to be offended by the nothingness.
In fact, that's what makes the game work so well: nothing........That's a good thing. See, I'm willing to forgive a survival horror game of its bad gameplay (because it's hard to find a survival horror game with good gameplay) if it has a decent story or atmosphere to make up for it, and this is where Clock Tower shines. First, remember that last sentence of that last paragraph? It applies to everything. You're pretty much the only thing on screen at any given time (ham aside), and about 95% of the sound in the game is just your footsteps. Nothing else. Clock Tower does an amazing job of making you feel like you're utterly alone.
Now this wouldn't be that scary if not for the second reason the atmosphere is so good: everything wants you to die. That innocent parrot in the master bedroom? He's a fucking snitch (who, in good playthroughs, gets stitches). That doll? It's gonna beat you to death? Come on, the piano, too? Yep; it summons Scissor Man, the murderer who lives in the ceiling. At this point, it's a life and death situation as you search for a hiding spot that might conceal you. Might. There's no guarantee he's gonna fall for it. (OK, there are a few that are guaranteed to work, but they're always on the opposite side of the mansion.) And that's what makes this game so great: not knowing if you're ever gonna be safe from Scissor Man, since he can pop out of anything and he can spot you in anything you hide in. Not to insult the rest of the game by comparison; since everything else can kill you, it creates the perfect tense mood that makes you question everything in sight, since anything can happen.
Unfortunately for this game, things happen, and that's it's greatest weakness. For you see, the game's so good at building up fearful anticipation that when it comes time to deliver on that fear, it throws its hands in the air in frustration. Why do you think I waited this long to mention the story? Because it's full of dumb shit like Mrs. Doubtfire killing her adoptive children or....whatever the fuck this is. Actually, that's a perfect metaphor for this game: pull back the curtain, and you're left with a lumpy-headed mess. Hell, even when it's genuinely scary, it's pretty stupid. I could talk about Scissor Man looking like some drunk man had his way with an angler fish, but instead, let's focus on that parrot. Yes, it screaming "I'll get you" is all kinds of unsettling, since it either suggests sentience or that it's the witness to a previous murder, but let's back up for a second: a young girl is being terrorized by a parrot. What, exactly, is scary about half the plot to Aladdin? The part where she stuffs it into some bedsheets, or the part where the parrot is voiced by Gilbert Gottfried?......Alright, point taken.
WHY AM I COLLECTING HAM?!
Is it to appease Baron Underbheit and hope he doesn't stab me to death?
Wait a minute, I'd believe that. After all, the game's actually pretty frickin' scary.
(Craaaaaap!) Now do not mistake that battle music for me calling this game bad (despite the lack of any sort of ending); instead, interpret it as my frustrations at writing a blog for this. It seems a trend with the last two Lexalofle games I've beaten: they're so simplistic yet competent that any blog would wind up being a description of the gameplay mechanics followed by me saying "it's good". So you know what? I'm not doing that this time. Just read the wiki entry for it while I whip something else up.
*stifled giggling* Wait, I'm supposed to begin these things with music in parentheses. Might as well correct that. (*stifled giggling*) Now you may be wondering why I'm tittering like a madman. Well, how often do you see a game that's so utterly self-aware? If this game could speak in a language that wasn't kicks, it would probably say, "Yea, I'm the Kick Master. I kick shit. I kick the fuck out of shit. What're you gonna do about it? You wanna come at me, bro? Huh? Huh?"
This much is evident from the beginning, and I mean the beginning. The title screen shakes with silent fury, and one of the options on the menu screen is a Demo of Kicks; it is exactly what you think it is. It's a Jean-Claude Van Damme film in an NES cartridge. I wish that could explain the story, but sadly, it's far better than that. Two brothers are waging a war against...something. I don't know. In fact, all I know is that it's Greek, given that you're fighting harpies and centaurs and the like. What's important, though, is that the protagonist's brother dies and entrusts the war to his brother, for his kicking power is the only thing that can stop the evil army of evil. This is all canon. It's frightening how utterly over-the-top this game is. I can only stand in awe as it becomes exactly what you'd expect of a game called Kick Master. Oh, and the game looks and sounds amazing (certainly too amazing for the NES), but who the fuck cares about that shit? YOU'RE THE GODDAMN KICK MASTER.
Speaking of which, the kicks. There are A LOT of them in the game, even though the game only has two buttons. How does it achieve so many kicks? Fighting game complexity. Oh, and a leveling system, but mostly stuff like forward and A+B. Obviously, this takes a little skill to pull off, but more importantly, it makes you feel like a complete badass, like some Master of Kickery, if you will. But how many kicks will you actually use? About four or five. Yes, it's nice that you have so many options regarding how to greet a man with your foot, but it's also a bit sad that so few of them find a perfect balance between ease and function so as to ruin the other available kicks. Think about it: why kill a guy with a Mortal Kombat bicycle kick when a Mega Man 5 era sliding kick? Why work hard to kill that boss when you can destroy them easily with a Super Mario head stomp and a good old fashioned nut kick? Wait, you can kick a boss in the nuts until it dies? Final boss included? I RESCIND ANY SUCH CRITICISMS TOWARD THIS GAME'S KICKING.
In fact, let me rectify this error by saying that this game will make you a man. If you're already a man, it will make you a woman just so it will be able to make you a man. What? You thought being the Kick Master was going to be easy? There is no such word in the realm of the Kick Master. Everything wants you dead, and they're going to succeed. It may not look so at first, given that you're getting stronger with each kick and everything, but give it time. They're going to whittle your health down bit by bit, and you've been kicking too many hearts out of your enemies. Now you have none left, and you're running low on health because of it. And then you die a horrible death, disgracing the Kick Master name. But do you give up? If you're fine living without manhood, absolutely, but if that's true, I have to imagine you gave up long before this game. For the rest of us, though, we don't give up. We persevere, push through, avoid kicking ass when perfectly fine testicles are available, and at the end of the day, we emerge victorious. Joy is bestowed unto all, and there is nothing left to fight over.
Although if I were to complain about this game, I'd probably be doubled over in pain, what with the kicked up gut and everything. But let's rewind to before I got what was coming to me. I was probably saying something like "the levels aren't terribly exciting". A lot of them are simply straight lines with enemies blocking your path from time to time. The few unique levels in this game are vertical instead of horizontal, and....no, that's about it. It's the adversaries that do the heavy lifting for this game; not the levels. True, there's some extra magic to find in each level, but you're the Kick Master, and the only magic the Kick Master knows is how to pull a rabbit out of a hat by kicking the hat over. And that's the only magic you'll ever need, and you know why? Because you're the Kick Master. That is all.
What were you expecting from a game called Kick Master? Well, it's exactly that.
So many kicks! So many things to be kicked! What more could you ask for?
Well, aside from the kicking I've been hyping up, a meatier game underneath the story premise.
OK, can somebody explain what exactly this is supposed to be? It's ripping assets from, like, nine different Fire Emblem games, and something else I can't readily identify.
Trauma Center: Second Opinion
(That's not why I chose this game.) The fact that Second Opinion is in the title is only a cute coincidence. Instead, I chose it because I was nostalgic for the launch of the Nintendo Wii or something, and this game certainly recreated that feeling. It doesn't look terribly good, it's physically exhausting and balls hard, my batteries kept running out every three operations or so...and yet, I still had one hell of a time. In fact, it's because it was balls hard that I had as good a time as I did with it.
Of course, the game is also very hard to look at. (I'll be here all week.) This much became evident when I took out the crystal clear Xenoblade Chronicles and swapped this game in, seeing a blurred out techno beat on the Wii menu. And then I actually started the game, and that trend continued unabated. Now I know that this is something everybody knows about, but it needs to be said: the bodies look all kinds of strange. Now I'm not expecting advanced skin or hair or anything like that, but why does every character look like they were doused in gasoline? Isn't that something I should know as a medical professional? And why are their organs all covered in this weird aura? Do the people of this world think lighters are shot glasses?
But to be fair, I have been limited myself to the gameplay. Maybe the story stuffs look miles better.....No, not really. It's pretty much a visual novel, and not a particularly great one. Remember how Katawa Shoujo (IE the only other visual novel I've ever played) had, like, twelve portraits for the meaningless NPC character you'd see only once? Well, here, even a main character would be lucky to get five of those things. Everybody else gets only one portrait apiece, which can make certain scenes a bit...awkward. For instance, here's a rather emotional moment conveyed with the same level of interest I had in Chocolate Castle. But still, it's surprising to think that I'd played a visual novel years before what I considered to be my first one. You know what? Let's fix that. I hereby decree that Trauma Center and Katawa Shoujo are in the same universe. In fact, Derek Stiles is just Hisao Nakai operating under an assumed alias. After all, like Hisao, Derek is well meaning but a tad naive and screws things up big time. Besides, it makes as much sense as anything in this game.
Which brings me to the story. Now you may expect me not to like the story, given previous trends in this blog, but actually, I thought it was OK. Strange, but good enough nonetheless. Although things don't start off that strange (unless you find the high number of hit and runs odd (more Katawa Shoujo proof!)). In fact, it's just Derek operating on regular cases. You meet the patient, cut them open, and get a decent short story about why their lives suck so hard. It's depressing, sure, but as I've noticed before, if you want to have a good story, it usually helps to make your audience as sad as possible. It just makes something like an arrhythmia-stricken girl all the more meorable. And then that suicide operation happens, and the story goes nine kinds of crazy. Man-made super viruses, defusing disco bombs, a bad meme reference, American cities with Japanese signage and the like. The strangest thing about this, though, is how it all works. There are messages and purpose to all that sci-fi-virus stuff. Granted, the messages are pretty heavy-handed (possibly because all the symbolism is literally capitalized for you), but there's some thought put into it, is what I'm saying.
Which brings us to the gameplay. I can talk about the story all I want, but at the end of the day, that's just window dressing for the gameplay...window. I don't know what window dressing dresses.....Anyway, what I meant to say is that the game's pretty good, and there are a few reasons behind this. First, it gets a lot out of that surgery stuff. You'll be reconstructing a person's arm, operating on twelve people at once, lasering more tumors than medicine would ever allow, and picking out A LOT of viruses. I'd call it cheating that the game invents a fictional disease to introduce gameplay variety, but even without it, Trauma Center manages to remain exciting, mainly through things not even relating to surgery. Airplanes and heart attacks and darkness and other such scary things. Granted, there's also a lot of repetition within the operations, like all the times you have to cut up a girl who cuts herself so you can prevent her body from cutting herself (because she's afflicted with the SYMBOLISM virus), but there's a very good reason for that:
This game is balls hard. Go ahead and feel your balls right now. I can guarantee you that this game is harder than they are. Admittedly, it's not all fair, as the game expects quite a bit of you. Why am I expected to perform major surgery in under five minutes? Don't most operations take place over several hours? Though to be fair, it's not like you're performing an organ transplant or something that complicated...except when you are. Obviously, I kid. A lot of the difficulty comes from good ol' fashioned "there's a lot happening on screen at once". You've removed that tumor, but blood is hemmorhaging in the kidneys! And that GUILT is wrecking havoc on the patient! And your batteries are running out again! Fuck! Another dead patient. That's the Trauma Center experience for you: death and malpractice. But do you give up? Hell no! You push through and work up a sweat (this is a Wii game; you'll literally work up a sweat) pulling out all those shards of glass or whatever at breakneck speed. And then you fail because you broke the patient's neck succeed, and you truly feel like you succeeded at something that mattered. YOU SAVED A LIFE, DAMN IT. This is especially true of the final boss, which tries to screw you over with twenty lacerations and twelve simultaneous strains of GUILT at once...and by playing a Persona 4 Mistanalog, for some reason. But you know better by now. You kick that Savato's ass and you reign supreme as the best doctor in the world. NOTHING CAN STAND IN YOUR WAY.
Oh, except for the controls, because this is an early Wii game. Now as I said last time I did this, it took a while for developers to figure out how to get Wii controls working, and, well, it certainly shows here. Now to be fair, pointing around, sewing shit up, and slicing people open work just fine. It's just that doing a lot of other things tend to be a pain in the ass. I assume you're still reading through that last link, so this will sound especially relevant: DO NOT MAKE ME ROTATE MY WII-MOTE, DEVELOPERS. It feels awkward as shit, and it never works the way you want it to (largely because of the inherent technical limitations). Still, any rotations are better than the defibrillator parts, which just don't work for reasons I never really understood, or the Healing Touch, which is just Atlus being mean. Allow me to explain. Whenever you need things to slow the hell down, you draw a star on the screen and just that happens. It's good to get you out of a pinch...provided the game actually registers the star. Sadly, about half the time, you're flailing about, hoping that time slows down. Meanwhile, your patient probably flatlined two minutes ago because why would you use a Healing Touch at full health? Worse yet, the story establishes that Derek could've chosen any shape in the world....and the dick chose a fucking star. Just...fuck. This game could've been so much better if the controls were more precise, which I guess is my way of telling you to get Under the Knife or something. It's either that or come into this knowing what you're gonna get.
(And we're back!) Last time, I left you guys with a bit of a cliffhanger, setting up an argument that I didn't end up making. Well, I'll fix that mistake and make the argument I couldn't make back then. How, you ask? Why, with Bastion, of course! What fault can we find with it? Well, not much...other than it's a total rip-off of Fragile Dreams. Don't believe me? Let's look at what they share:
Minor items that reveal a lot of world building backstory
A post-apocalyptic plot wherein a kid with a litany of weapons must go out into the world, searching for survivors
A grand science experiment that caused this Apocalypse and threatens to do so again
A guilt-ridden grandpa figure who was involved with the experiment and sends our hero out on his adventure
A stark white villain who, upon seeing the true intentions of those around him, becomes quite mad and wishes death on the world's survivors
Wow, that is A LOT to take from a single game. But wait, what about Fragile Dreams? Is it innocent in all this? No, not really. Remember that scene I linked before? (If not, how? It's emblazoned in gold.) Turns out that shit came from Lunar: Eternal Blue. Although there is another game that shares even more with Fragile Dreams: Bastion Final Fantasy VI. Again, let's compare:
The magical nihilist
The search for survivors
And again, quite a bit so specifically taken from another game. Here's what it all looks like mapped out:
And so we are forced to call Bastion bad, simply because at least three games before it did quite similar things. Oh, I can already here it: "That doesn't necessarily mean the game is bad; certainly, we must devalue Bastion, but it can still be good." First off, I've seen games criticized for four games before them, so this is well within the territory of bad (at least on these grounds). Second, this introduces another problem beyond simply being bad. Now what were we saying before? About devaluing Bastion? What's the problem there? After all, we don't even have to hold an opinion of it, yet. It can still be good; it can still have any opinion. It just to be devalued in some way. Or, in math language, it's gonna be X-5 (or whatever number you want to assign it; I don't care, and it's not important). But wait a minute: did we just jam a value onto the game before we've seen any of it? Isn't that essentially forming some type of opinion of it (or at least limiting what our opinion will be)? Yea, I think Sherlock Holmes is gonna have a problem with that.
I sense that some of you still aren't convinced by that strange argument. Well, then, time to break out the big guns. That's right, we're going with...Phantom Brave: Heroes of the Hermuda Triangle? OK, what the hell is wrong with this? Yea, it had a story so utterly girly that scientists are still trying to understand the subvaginae it spawned (vaginae within vaginae), but the music was bitching, the customization had some teeth to it, and there could be some crazy maps. But how do I know about a game I've never played? Simple: it's a rip off of a game I have played, Phantom Brave: We Meet Again. What's that? Remakes aren't subject to this rule because they're being honest about their sources of inspiration? Then tell me why Super Street Fighter II Turbo elicited the response "Capcom can't count to three". Exactly. Honesty and openness account for jack shit. Of course, with this established, we can call We Meet Again a cheap Phantom Brave knock-off...with Phantom Brave stealing quite a lot from Disgaea (even Laharl makes the leap). But yet again, Disgaea is not innocent; it steals quite a few gameplay and graphical concepts from Final Fantasy Tactics. This is where things get interesting.
For you see, Final Fantasy Tactics rips off two video games primarily: Tactics Ogre and Fire Emblem: Seisen no Keifu. The first is easy enough to spot, since they were both developed by pretty much the same team. The second, though, requires some elaboration: both games share the same damn plot. Sigurd becomes Ramza, Alvis becomes Delita, the Twelve Crusaders become the Zodiac Braves, their weapons the stones, the Loptous Sect becomes the Glabados Church, etc. Now I would like to analyze Fire Emblem a bit more, but given that it, too, is a rip-off of Tactics Ogre (the series only became as political as it is after Tactics Ogre, much like many strategy RPGs of the day), it would make more sense to start with Tactics Ogre.
You know why else it would make sense? Because it's infinitely more simple than what I shall do with Fire Emblem 4. You see, remove the isometric perspective, and all you have is a complicated variant of Shining Force. But is Shining Force unique? Hell no! It's nothing more than a derivative of the original Fire Emblem....which was open about its inspirations of "what if we combined Famicom Wars with Dragon Warrior." The rabbit hole goes deeper still, because Dragon Warrior is a rip off of Wizardry, which is a rip off of Ultima, which is a rip off of Akalabeth, which i-
......Let's move onto Fire Emblem 4. At first, things seem simple, as (at first) it appears to be nothing more than a Fire Emblem rip off. After all, it's got the same gameplay, the same mechanics, the same art, even the samemusic. But wait, about that music: there's another source of inspiration, and a weird one at that. Listen to that last video again. Anything sticking out to you? That's right: it's the intro sound effects from Super Mario All Stars + Super Mario World. What's that? Too esoteric? A helluva lot closer than the plagiarizing in this video (those two aren't even the same tone), so I think we're fine. Back to Super Mario All Stars + Super Mario World. I don't think I need to make clear what this game is ripping off. Of course, All Stars rips off the games it compiles, and each game rips off the one before it (otherwise, it would be quite difficult to call Mario a series), with Super Mario World doing the same, so this issue only becomes more complicated, and it only becomes even more complicated when we look at the individual games. Super Mario Bros. 2 is but a Doki Doki Panic knock-off, and Super Mario Bros. borrows quite a bit from Mario Bros. (again, I refer you to Super Street Fighter II), which itself takes quite a bit from Donkey Kong. And so this mess ends there...right?
Oh, but why limit ourselves to video games? After all, we've seen so many comparisons to works outside our medium many times before, such as between Snatcher and Blade Runner (really, it applies to a lot of what Kojima does), Star Wars and anything, Donkey Kong and King Kong, and, why, something on our very forum. From there, it's not too large a leap to make a normative claim based on those comparisons (it's been done within games, after all). So what exactly do we get out of this? Well, first off, Akalabeth ultimately rips off Dungeons and Dragons, and....no, that's pretty much it. Things are equally simple for Doki Doki Panic, which is largely based off a Fuji TV show or something. Things only become truly complicated with two games in particular: Super Mario Bros. and Fire Emblem: Seisen no Keifu. Let's start with the first. Now, as I said before, Donkey Kong rips off King Kong, so we must add that to the mix. But this is about Super Mario Bros, which primarily derives from two other sources: Star Trek and Alice in Wonderland. Now how the fuck does Super Mario Bros rip off Star Trek? Simple: Miyamoto admitted that the idea of teleportation pipes came from Star Trek. He also admitted to inspirations from Alice in Wonderland, as where else can we find a magical land of nonsense where you can change size all over the place with the bite of a mushroom? (It's more apparent in the sequels, especially Super Mario 64.) But is Al-you should know by now that it isn't. It ripped off quite a few poems from its time (go back a bit in the video, and you'll see such in action).
Now onto Seisen no Keifu, or, as I shall call it only within this sentence, Medieval Star Wars. Don't believe me yet again? Well, time to break out some more charts. Clear enough now? Now we can move onto how Star Wars is unoriginal, which shouldn't be a difficult job at all. A lot of its unoriginality is public knowledge, whether it's ripping the general story and editing techniques of Flash Gordon, the general feel of many a samurai film, or the general plot structure of the all encompassing Monomyth of old. But it doesn't e....OK, this is getting fucking confusing. Maybe it will become clearer if I provide a visual representa-
OH DEAR CHRIST! IT HASN'T BECOME CLEARER AT ALL! There's no way we can call anything here good with so much inbreeding and the threat of so much more on the horizon! If anything, we've plunged into some insane world where everything is either perfect because it resembles everything or abysmal for the exact same reason. And the worst part: it doesn't have to end here. I mean, what's to separate me from that child in the previous blog? True, I've played far more games than he has, but even my knowledge has its limits. Just because I'm not aware of other works being ripped off doesn't mean they don't exist; hell, there's probably a vaudeville act out there with the same plot as Phantom Brave or something. You know, I'm starting to think that there's absolutely nothing original.
But there's something worse about a focus on originality, something far worse: it removes from games their power to determine their own quality. Hanako Ikezawa is no longer a tragic figure whose plight moves my heart to and fro, but a mere rip-off of Turanga Leela. Trolls on Treasure Island is no longer to be criticized for its terrible idea realized through a confusing execution, but solely because it rips off Dudes with Attitude. Spiderman 3 is not to be hated for its dorky protagonist and...some other stuff (I should probably use things I've seen as examples), but because it derives much of its plot from a frigging Angry Beavers episode. In fact, go back to the insanity from before and tell me when I last even mentioned Phantom Brave at all. But why stop at mere works? Why, under this system of logic, remakes, parodies, compilations, rereleases, even delayed ports - all of them "inherently" worthless. (I put that in quotes because nothing is inherently original, since originality is a comparative thing.) Sports games, even, would be devalued from the start, if we wanted to extend either of my previous diagrams to include the real world. There's only one way to escape this logic that only examines a game so that it may make it irrelevant: cast off originality altogether.
So what exactly do I mean? Exactly what I meant waaaaay before: a game must only be evaluated in terms of the game itself. Other games must not be dragged into the discussion and should not be used to judge other games. Descriptive comparisons are fine, but not normative comparisons. And that's the end of that. I'd ask you what you think of all this, but if you've made it this far, you're no doubt scathing it at me already.
(Note: while I will be posting this in the Succession thread, this will also be its own stand-alone blog for people into dwarf torture.)
(Well, today's the day.) Today's the day I leave my Lunar Kingdoms so that I might take a bit of a vacation in the world of Shimmeroiled. You see, quite some time ago, I heard of a start-up Fortress in need of some leadership. Immediately, I thought, "This is perfect for me! I hate dwarves! *maniacal laugh*" I signed up, and now, I leave my castle to tend to the Fortress. Of course, I can sense some of my subjects wondering what would become of my own Kingdom during my stay at the Fortress. Fret not, my royal subjects, for I leave my Kingdom in the hands of Taiyn Hidueria, Queen of Airal and the United Lunar Kingdoms. She is a master of diplomacy and government; I trust my Kingdom will be in good hands during my leave.
I arrive at the gates of Shimmeroiled and am immediately greeted by its previous ruler, @onarum@Shofixti. Appropriately enough, he looks like Erik the Swift of Lost Vikings fame, en 'e speaks loiyke this, 'e roiyght does! With open arms, he greets me and ushers me into the tavern. I am not sure it's a tavern, but he assures me that it is a tavern. And it is in this "tavern" that Shofixti informs me of the current situation. Apparently, the Fort has been having trouble with goblins, of late. How do I, in my infinite wisdom, solve it?
Now, some of my predecessors object, telling me that I left some dwarfs out in the wilderness to fend for themselves. But I explain my rationale: coming from an isolated confederation of Kingdoms, I work best away from the prying eyes of man. Besides, I haven't had any serious control over an army for about forty years; what use could I have of such a thing? Anyway, with that taken care of, I survey the Fort, searching out any and a-
And so Shofixti's Safecave is discovered. Immediately, I order all dwarfs into the Safecave. Little do they know that one by one, they march to their eternal deaths. Yet what could harm them?
Well, I want to make sure that these dwarfs will forever be safe, so...
Initially, the dwarfs are hopeful. They bide their time in the golden chamber at the front; some till the nearby fields to provide sustenance to this make-shift civilization, but for the most part, a relaxed calm pervades the atmosphere. Truly, the dwarfs view this as a joyous occasion for celebration.
We must fix this.
They know their fate, and at first, their spirits remain as high as ever. But the winds of time slowly erodes those mountains of hope, leaving only a decaying valley where death and despair reign supreme. Conditions are cramped. These dwarfs have no space in which to mill about, leaving them only the option to crouch in agony and reflect on how a cruel tyrant revels in the despair that is now their life. The walls also shut out any light with which they can view the outside world; soon, the memory of a dwarven face fades entirely from their consciousness. Worse still, this oppressing darkness is the only life the children may ever know. They are like veal, primed for the slaughter.
Yet these miseries cannot compare to that which afflicts she who is trapped alone: Solon. Each night, she remembers that it was her who damned them to that pitiful existence which now comes to define them. This, Solon shall not soon forget, and yet still, the ghost of Olin stands forever at her side, haunting her. The ghost speaks not of Solon's sins. In fact, the ghost speaks not a word. What words could ever suffice? For you see, Olin is a permanent reminder that in time, Solon's former compatriots will shuffle off their mortal coils, fated to torment her and force her to relive those crimes for which she can never repent.
In short, she is in Hell.
And dwarfs start dying. One by one, they drop like flies. Ironic wording, as not even maggots would call this squalor hospitable. The fetid stench of miasma chokes the air, reminding the living of what their eyes can no longer see. Most have grown accustomed to this new life. Others, however, remember better times, and are tormented by such memories.
Let us examine the two remaining citizens of the once great Shimmeroiled. First is Solon, with whom we have already become acquainted. She decides that enough is enough: escape must happen.
But a problem arises: she has not the energy to commit to this task. All the life has been sucked out of her. Frustrated and enraged, she lashes out at the environment around her, by which I mean "she goes berserk and murders every cat trapped in there with her". I watched her chase a cat, beat it half to death, walk away, and then run back at the fucker to finish the job, and Jesus fuck I wish I was kidding.
But what of the second citizen? This one is but a child. What can I say of this child that the game does not?
But deep within him remains a sliver of hope. Although ignorant of the world around him (there's a siege happening, but nothing results of it), he wishes for escape, singing this to himself with the intention of preserving what sanity remains. This does not last, though; eventually, he buries himself beneath the corpses he has come to know as his bed, never to emerge again.
And so Shimmeroiled ends. Or at least I think it ends, until I discover a final vestige of the fort in the form of Atis. She escaped the ironic safety Shofixti had intended for the fortress, but for some reason, she cannot bring herself to leave. She roams the halls of Shimmeroiled, wondering how it could have possibly come to this. Eventually, though, she settles into the Danger Room, having learned long ago not to trust the words designated to these locations.
Shofixti is not pleased, however. His eternal rage and Cockney accent know no bounds, for even in death, he causes more suffering and pain for the dwarfs than I could ever hope to achieve. He could leave the fort and rest in peace, but instead, he decides to beat and batter Atis, perhaps to instill in her the idea that while words are not to be trusted, they all mean "danger".
And that's how the year ends. Over a hundred dwarfs now lie dead, buried within Shimmeroiled rooms none shall ever manage to penetrate. My job is done. I have destroyed what was not a threat, for none but my own petty desires. I shall now return to Senastia, relaxed and sated, to rule over my Kingdom in a responsible manner, for a change.
(Wait, what the hell is this?) There aren't any games in that banner; what the hell's going on? Well, I thought I'd try something different, for a change. Namely, I'm gonna tell you guys about a few things that, over my illustrious gaming career, I have found out about evaluating games. Now this isn't so much a step by step method on how I blog about games or anything (that might come in the very far off future, though); merely a set of rules I've stumbled across over time. That out of the way, let's get into exactly what the hell I'm talking about. Up first:
Don't form opinions about games until you've actually played them.
OK, we good? Now then, let us move onto the real reason I'm posting this in the first place:
A game must only be evaluated in terms of the game itself; do not drag outside factors into it.
(So what the fuck does that mean?) Well, it means what it means. I know that sounds just as confusing as before, so to alleviate this, I'll show you the problem that I have attempted to solve with this very statement:
Oh, how illogical a way to evaluate games. Don't believe me? Let's take a look at what it says through the magical power of mathematics: It's the same, so x=y. Fair enough. But now it sucks. That word "now" implies that it did not suck before, so x>y. Or x<y. It doesn't matter, because either would mean x≠x. Wouldn't that also mean we've told logic to go fuck itself?
OK, I'll admit that was a bit pretentious as all hell. Worry not, for I've equally pretentious arguments coming later slightly less head-up-my-own-ass ways of tearing apart this logic. For example, to say that a game is bad because it is unoriginal implies that being unoriginal causes it to be bad. (Remember that for later.) Now does this not imply that originality relate to goodness? Let's see if that holds up. First, let's start with individual games, since that's what I'm primarily concerned with:
Nope. No goddamn connection. Turns out a game can be good without being original, and it can be original without being good. Well, maybe it holds true for series that remain original? After all, I see people insulting game series for staying exactly the same over time, so maybe that's where it becomes valid:
Again, no such luck. If there's no correlation to speak of between quality and originality, how can we even begin to say that one causes the other?
Which leads nicely into my next argument: I've seen this "sameness is bad" argument used endlessly against Capcom's stuff, so let's start with an example from them. "God, Mega Man 6 fucking sucks; it's exactly the same as Mega Man 5." Tell me: what is this hypothetical gamer saying? "The experience of Mega Man 6 sucks; it's exactly the same as Mega Man 5." (Trust me, I have a reason for adding that clause. However, I don't want to type that out all the time, so just keep it in the back of your mind throughout all this.) So Mega Man 6 is bad specifically because it is the same as Mega Man 5? What an interesting word: because. Because because because because......Cause! That's it! This statement is saying that Mega Man 5 causes Mega Man 6 to be bad; if Mega Man 5 weren't in the picture, then, presumably, Mega Man 6 would be good. So we have a causal relationship between Mega Man 5 and Mega Man 6, meaning that Mega Man 6 is dependent on Mega Man 5. But wait, that makes no sense. Mega Man 6 doesn't need Mega Man 5 to exist; I can play Mega Man 6 on its own just fine. (Remember that "experience" thing I mentioned long ago? That's where it comes into play. I don't want any financial fuckery here.)
And that's exactly what I'm getting at: there is no causal relation between games. They are all independent of each other and should be treated as such. Again, I shall elaborate through example. If you're reading this through my background, you'll note that I'm a big fan of Persona 4. (And Katawa Shoujo, but more on that later.) I've done quite a bit of reading on it, and spoken at greatlength about it, and both of these have revealed to me something rather interesting: nearly everybody played Persona 3 before this. I've had a conversation go from "I'm playing Persona 4" to "What did you think about Persona 3?" (they assumed it was a given); the FAQ I'd use for the game had an entire section dedicated to changes between the games; and not only does the box art assume that I've played Persona 3, but my blog saying just that spawned a mini-discussion pretty much on just that. So we should rate Persona 4 in terms of its predecessor, right? Not so fast. You did read that box art blog, right? I think I made it clear that I have not played Persona 3. I know next to nothing about it (there are some cool battle themes and that's about it). How can I evaluate Persona 4 in terms of a game I've never played? It makes no sense. I must evaluate it in terms of Persona 4, as that is the only thing I can be sure of about Persona 4.
"You're beings selfish!", I can hear you cry through your computer screens. (You're lucky that your microphone was on, because computers don't work that way.) "You just gamed the system for this weird little experiment of yours! There's no way that this shit happens naturally." Really, now? I'll leave you with this word: Pokémon. And just like that, a slightly manlier version of Michael Jackson has tapped into a rich vein of nostalgia deep within you. You're probably remembering that time when you were seven years old and your friend told you all these rumors about a Green version of Pokémon that totally had a Pikablu in it that evolved into Mewthree or whatever your stupid rumors were. I suspect that, being a gamer of wide tastes, you have continued playing Pokémon over the years, and, because you have previously yelled at me for poor arguments, I'm going to assume that you're not liking the recent Pokémon games because they're the same as the previous ones. (I have precedent.) So the games are the same, meaning they're appealing to the same audience. You know what that means: right now, there's a seven year old playing Pokémon Black and hearing some crazy rumors about Blerdier in the super secret Japan only Pokémon Grey. Now where the fuck am I going with this?
Well, let's say you were to get into a discussion with this chi-you know what? Let's make this a super child with all the reasoning capacities of an adult, just so you can't attack him on the grounds of being a child. Manly knowledge in the body of a child. Anyway, discussion with child. You want to tell this kid how bad the new Pokémon games are. Now how the fuck do you go about doing it? Comparing them to Red and Blue? What would that achieve? The kid's fucking seven; he's not likely to have even seen a Game Boy, much less played games on it. Your argument would make about as much sense as me saying that Bastion is bad because it's a Fragile Dreams rip-off. You've never played Fragile Dreams; why the fuck should you care if it's a rip-off? In fact, if we go back to the child, do we even know what the hell he's played? Well, there's Pokémon Black, and....uh....Pokémon Wh-but that's just Black....hmmm....We only know that he has played Pokémon Black; we know nothing else about him. Therefore, we can only frame our discussion in terms of Pokémon Black. So it must be for all games.
However, I must point out that I have heard a rebuttal to this very argument: "Play some more games, you little brat!" Is that how we really wish to address the situation? Tell the child that their opinion is of no worth because of those factors completely outside it? Oh, how that reeks of ad hominem. However, I do not like the counterargument I have presented, since it reeks too much of strawman for my tastes. So let us construct a stronger attack by, yet again, identifying what is at the heart of what this person is truly saying. Now why would somebody use that reply in such a situation? Well, because they believe that if they were to play more games, their opinion would be more informed (even though they're already damn well informed enough for having played through the game in question) by comparing to its peers. You know what this means, right? The gamer in question is asserting that because other video games exist before Black and White (not that Black & White, although it doesn't really matter for what I'm trying to say), they determine the game's quality in exactly that way. Also important to this is that it doesn't matter if the gamer actually knows about these games; if such were true, then we could not use it as a counterargument. So, to sum things up about what it's saying: games exist beforehand, they determine quality as such, and our own personal knowledge holds no weight in this regard. What we have here the key to Pandora's Box, and I shall demonstrate as such....next time, because this is getting pretty long.
(Or Jet Grind Radio for American readers.) Now before I actually say anything about the game itself (outside the sinister tone, of course), let me clarify that I'm not talking about the Dreamcast version, as should have been evident from the banner. That's too obvious. Instead, I'm going to lecture you on the oft-forgotten GBA release. Trust me, there's a good reason it was forgotten: it's a clunky, confusing shadow of what was probably a decent game on the Dreamcast. (I say "probably", as I've never played the Dreamcast version.)
That said, though, at least some of the quality that's probably in the original, maybe, still shines through this iteration. Granted, it's mostly in the story and core concept....OK, only the story and core concept, but it's still there, damn it. So what is the core concept, exactly? It's the future (I think), and the police force of Tokyo has gone to shit. They're responding to graffiti not with security cameras or anything sensible, but a goddamn military invasion. Oh, and something about demons at the end. And that's the gist of things in Jet Set Radio. I know that doesn't sound too impressive, but it all lies in the presentation. I'm not talking about the graphics (although they are at least technically impressive), but the overall atmosphere of the game. It's just how positive it is and all the style that makes the enjoyable parts enjoyable. All the vibrant colors and the music that sounds like it's cheering you on is enough to make you raise your hands and woo in triumph. Then mutter angrily as you realize you tossed your GBA three yards across the room.
But style alone does not a game make. You need more than that, and in Jet Set Radio's case, you get flow. Oh so glorious flow. Like an oddly circular river (what are those things called? I think it begins with an M?), everything in this game revolves around the flow, tagging especially. On its face: pretty lame. What? Spraying's nothing more than quick time events? Where's the fun in that? Everywhere, man. Those quick time events lead into each other all the time, making you feel hip and stylish and other 80s/90s words when you complete a pattern. And then you move onto another one, and another one, and another one. I know that sounds tedious and a little daunting, but it's the best part of the game, since you're jumping from tag to tag, avoiding the incompetent paramilitary force while the game yells "JET SET RADIO!!!". But it's not like tags are the only things the game offers. You also get some games of actual tag (awesome), unlockable characters (not awesome), and even some other things (varying in their degrees of awesome). Wow! What more could you ask for!?
A working game, for one. Unfortunately, a lot of what I said before is just in theory. Now it's time to get real. You know how I said the game thrives on the flow? That's when there's any flow at all. Most of the levels are sparse open worlds (although the sparseness might be a problem on my end), and they don't really do a lot to point you in the right direction. Sure, there might be a few tags nearby, but that's all you're getting. Want more fun time? Run around the level in the vague hopes that you're going to find a tag. You know what would help? A map that told me where they are, or at least a count telling me how many are left. Now to be fair, the game does provide both these things; it's just that they're tucked away in the pause menu. Have fun pausing every twenty seconds just so you can find another tag!
And have fun actually getting to that next tag, because the controls aren't too good, either. Not surprising, given that the game is isometric and isometric games tend to have iffy control schemes, but the problems go beyond that. First up: tank controls. Nothing else need be said. Second: turning can be really goddamn loose. So much as tap left or right, and you've already pulled a full 1260 turn. That's not a good thing when you're trying to land on a precise railing to get where you want to go. I guess that's why so much as being in the same neighborhood as a grindable surface will lock you onto it. To be fair, though, I ultimately have mixed feelings regarding that. On the one hand, trying to land exactly on one of these things wouldn't be too pleasant, for reasons I have previously described. On the other hand, there are times when you want to jump past a railing (possibly to get to an impossible-to-reach tag), and the game simply won't let you. This inevitably leads to you grinding a rail again and again in sheer frustration. Do I need to say anymore? Just stay away from this. Stick to the one people have actually heard of. Trust me: you're not missing out on anything.
If Tony Hawk had more vandalism, is what I'm saying.
You'd think that a game that relies on its smooth pacing wouldn't fuck it all up with the level design and controls.
You know what? This ought to approximate the Jet Set Radio experience, and possibly the experience of the next game.
Castlevania: Circle of the Moon
(Why, this is a game people actually know exists!) It's been a while since I've done one of those. (Of course, by a while, I mean two weeks ago.) What game am I talking about? The one in the title, and the banner: Circle of the Moon, the GBA follow-up to Symphony of the Night. In fact, that's the best way I can possibly describe it. All I have to tell you is that this game was released early on for the GBA, and it follows Symphony of the Night, and you'll have a perfect idea of just what this game is.
But I'm still going to devote a lot of words to describing it, as is tradition. And as is tradition, I shall begin with the terrible, terrible story. I'm not kidding: the story's bad. So bad, in fact, that it was excised from Castlevania canon. Not that there's a lot to remove in the first place. Dracula's coming back to life, because his minions have been redecorating the castle and want his final say on the paint job. But the Graveseses won't be having any of that! They'll....just fuck around until the game decides it wants to have a conclusion. But until that point, the story consists mainly of Hugh Graves being a whiny goddamn bitch. That is in no way an exaggeration or misleading; every line of dialogue out of this chucklefuck is a complaint regarding Nathan being the one the master chose. I imagine he chose him because a bland, dimensionless character is a better choice for a protagonist than a petty, angsty one, but it's not like that matters; they're pretty much the only significant characters in the story. It's just these two, a few one-off characters, and Dracula, near the end, who remains the loveably smug prick he's always been. So at least Konami got that right.
You know what? Maybe I should talk about the things they did get right, like the combat...sort of. Don't get me wrong; it does some interesting stuff. The card mechanics, for instance, encourage exploring around, whacking things, getting whacked, and generally playing the game, so that's always welcome. Plus whips return, for once, and it's always fun to kill somebody with the power of rhythmic gymnastics. But here's where things take a turn for the odd: I had absolutely no interest in the combat. I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with it, but it's just so much more rewarding to see a hallway full of powerful enemies and jump over every last one of those fuckers. Better still when they're tightly packed and you have to react super quickly to push through. Granted, this will inevitably make you underleveled and turn forced combat (IE bosses) into a pain, but I'm fine with that. Bosses should be challenging, and while being twelve levels too low usually simply makes bosses longer, I still appreciate having to work for those nine simultaneous level-ups I get from beating Death. Somewhere, the enemy designer for this game is reading this, and he is crying.
I'd tell him not to feel bad, but most of my consolations would be in terms of the level design, and I suspect that would send him over the edge. I'm still gonna gush all over the level design, though, because I love the level design. This game knows what it needs to be a good Metroidvania: a loose collection of power-ups and a huge map to jump around. Yes, you're gonna feel like an OCD maniac, discovering the wall jump and immediately going to whichever parts of the map are only half-filled in, even though they're miles apart. But you know what? That's what's so fun about the game: discovering things for yourself and carving out your own path in Dracula's castle. I'd say it helps that there's a decent variety of areas to explore, but I'm none too thrilled about that aspect. Several of the areas simply aren't that fun, like that waterway filled with blood (trust me, it's not a particularly great area) or that place with all the stupid block puzzles. Still, I'd recommend this game, if you have some time to kill on a bus or something and don't have a PSP available.
A bland protagonist searching for his whiny brother? Sign me the fuck up!
Actually, do sign me the fuck up, because I'm a fan of ignoring the hell out of the combat...
...especially when that means I can plunder the depths of Castlevania.