By Video_Game_King 9 Comments
Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back(But I'll expand on that idea later.) Right now, I'll focus on the sequel to Crash Bandicoot, which, for some reason, uses Star Wars as the inspiration for its title. Weird, as Cortex Strikes Back has absolutely nothing in common with any of the Star Wars movies; if anything, what it resembles most is the previous Crash Bandicoot. Almost everything this game does was already done in the previous entry. The reason I said "almost" is because, surprisingly, there are some things not blatantly ripped straight from Crash 1, one of them being the story.
Unlike the first Crash game, there's more to the story than "let's watch this thing be insane." After being beaten by Crash, Cortex forms a plot to rule the world by making a super-weapon of some kind. However, to fuel this weapon, he needs to collect crystals. Fortunately, Crash is more than willing to help. I am not kidding, Crash is actually insane enough to help Cortex take over the world. OK, it's under the delusion that he's saving the world, but Crash doesn't know that until after the first level, which is notably after he agreed to help Cortex. Yes, he's willing to help the person he fought against in the first game, something the game reminds you of. So why does Crash help the bad guy? The same reason he beat him up in the first game: because he is out of his fucking mind.
So one of the recurring themes, Crash's insanity, has carried over; what about others, like the Donkey Kong Country feel? Well, that's another one of the things that wasn't ripped off, as CSB feels less like a DKC game than its predecessor did. Again, it feels a lot like the first game, almost to the point where they weren't really trying. Does running away from about nine boulders sound familiar? No? What about riding a helpless animal just for the hell of it? Both of these appear several times throughout the game, just in case you didn't catch onto the unoriginality the first time.
Crash 2 also makes some improvements over the original formula, but the majority of them are very minor tweaks. For example, rather than just running through levels, you now have a goal: collect a crystal for the bane of your existence in each level. While that's the idea behind the level design, the reality is that you still blast through levels quickly. Every single crystal you need is hidden in plain sight, so unless you're in a level with multiple paths, there's a good chance you'll get everything you need on your first run. (And even if there multiple paths, you can turn around if you realize you haven't obtained the crystal.) Still, you have to at least respect it, as it gives Crash 2 more structure. That's another change present in this game: more structure. Rather than randomly jumping around three islands, you periodically switch between several level hubs. After completing five levels, you move onto a piss-easy boss fight. Glad to see that hasn't changed.
But guess what has changed? Crash's abilities. Now he has this slide/body smash thing, and surprisingly, it's put to good use. There are several boxes that can only be broken with this move, there are some enemies you can only defeat with this move, and sliding allows you to jump higher somehow. It comes off as more of a central gameplay feature and less of a one-time gimmick. Lack of gimmicks aside, Cortex Strikes Back still feels a lot like the first game in the series, and because of this, it carries over the same flaws, like how you trip over so many lives that the Grim Reaper has to restore the balance. (That was the best I could do.) Then again, Crash was still a fun game, so I guess it's somewhat decent that the sequel changed very little. What to do, what to do.....I know! I'll give it the M. C. Escher Award for Conflicting Perceptions of the Same Thing, and then yell at anybody who dares disagree with me.
- It's just that: Crash Bandicoot with a 2 on the end.
- The hub adds more structure to the experience, even if the crystals don't change crap.
- Crash's sister is a mysterious bitch.
This is seriously the most random fucking thing I've seen on the Internet.
Panzer Dragoon Saga (I'll be the first to admit that I've ripped off Yahtzee in the past.) When? You haven't seen it, but trust me, I've done it. Why am I saying this? Just so people won't accuse me of ripping off his Prince of Persia review when I use the following intro: once upon a time, there were three ducklings. The first one kicked ass left and right, and his name was "PlayStation"; the second was a cute little fatass called the Nintendo 64. And then there was the third one, called Sega Saturn. No matter how hard it tried to impress everyone around it, the poor duckling was simply ignored. It probably didn't help that it had four wings and was hatched a month early, but still, you had to feel sorry for the poor little thing. Fortunately, though, it eventually discovered it was actually a beautiful swan (OK, not beautiful, given the wing-malformation). So as its last act as a duck, it let out a magnificent "screw you" song to every creature in the forest. And then it became the Sega Dreamcast.
"What the hell was that about", you're thinking to yourself. Well, that song was Panzer Dragoon Saga, and I've heard the term "swan song" applied to this game quite a bit. I assume the term means "something so great, it makes up for all the crap before it", and if true, then I can see how its use is justified in this case. PDS is a great game that fulfills the potential of not only the Saturn, but also the Panzer Dragoon series. Case in point is the story. One thing I've always thought about the series is that there was potential for a good story, but Sega didn't put it to good use; this all changed with Saga. For example, instead of playing as a Russian serf fighting an empire atop a laser-burping dragon, you play as Edge, a mercenary for the empire....fighting the empire atop a laser burping dragon. What makes him turn sides? Well, on one of his missions, he encounters a mystical hot piece of ass from the Ancient Age. But it seems a dirty man named Craymen plans on using her ass for his own nefarious purposes. Edge, with the aid of his dragon, must now stop Craymen, the Empire, and anybody else from tapping that ass. Already, it has earned Bushwald Sexyface's Seal of Approval, which he designed himself.
OK, in all seriousness, the story is much deeper than that. In fact, it's really, really deep. It achieves levels of symbolism that many games don't even come close to achieving, and the themes range from things like religion, our role on the planet, and destiny. It also establishes complex series of character relations and several plot twists that, while not Shyamalan-worthy, at least manage to shame those of other games. A lot of effort went into making the story great, but at times, the developers seemed a bit too eager with the story. The cutscenes can drag on at times, some of them (including the opening cutscenes) clocking in at about ten minutes. I know it never reaches Metal Gear Solid levels of "when the shitting hell will this cutscene end", but there are still plenty of moments where you find yourself sitting on your ass, waiting for the part of the game where you get to shoot the piss out of huge bugs.
And trust me, you want to get to these battles; they are Panzer Dragoon Saga's strong point. If I could summarize the battle system in one phrase, it'd be "Active Time Battle mixed with a rail shooter." In battle, you can't do anything until you've filled up at least one gauge of a possible three. While you're waiting for them to fill, you dodge enemy attacks in full 3D and semi-real time (attacks either hit you or they don't, sort of). You'd think it would be a nightmarish clusterfuck, but Panzer Dragoon Saga manages to pull it off excellently; it strikes a perfect balance between rail-shooter-twitch gameplay and traditional JRPG combat. Another thing that the battle system balances well is speed and strategy, which I didn't think possible, since I percieve them on opposite sides of the gaming spectrum. Anyway, how does it balance the two? Grades. For each battle, you're graded on your performance and awarded experience/money based on that. So what keeps you from just speeding through each battle? Moving prevents you from charging your gauges, and in some of the more intense battles, you'll have to fly about like it's the final boss of Panzer Dragoon II. (Ironically, I don't recall much movement in the Guardian Dragon boss fight in this game.)
The gaming savvy will notice that final boss I linked is just a boss in this game. Panzer Dragoon Saga pays attention to the little details, and what I previously mentioned is just an example. The other example I have is how atmospheric it is. There are only about two or three towns in the entire game, but the good thing is that they feel like towns. Even in the best RPGs I can name, the towns just feel like very poorly disguised black markets with hotels; in Panzer Dragoon Saga, howerver, I can actually imagine people living in these towns, going about their lives, speaking their weird language. Oh, that's another thing: this game has its own language, and it feels like a language. There seem to be actual words and sentence structure to what they're s....you don't care about this at all, do you? Hey, I thought it was a really cool feature. (See that? Ripped it right from the Uncharted review.)
*sigh* I know what you people like. You like graphics, mainly because you're idiots who get easily distracted by shiny objects. To the idiots among you, I say this: Panzer Dragoon Saga has the best graphics out of all the Sega Saturn games. The distinctive art style is still as awesome as ever, obviously, but the game is also presented in not only 3D, but really good 3D. Keep in mind that this is the Sega Saturn, the technological equivalent of taping two toasters together vertically. It also made sure that any FMVs were so rough, you could mistake them for Mr. Itagaki, Panzer Dragoon Saga not excluded. Ignoring that blemish, the CGI in this entry is actually of professional quality, unlike the poorly aged CGI of the games before it. What makes all of this amazing is the complete lack of any load times. You can jump between massive floors of a gargantuan labyrinth in only a few seconds; the time you spend waiting to get anywhere is really short.
And so we come to the crippling flaw of this game: it's short. Very short. The end time on my run was 12 hours, a pathetic amount of time for a shooter, let alone an RPG. What makes it worse is that near the end (but not AT the end, if you catch my drift), the creativity kinda drops a bit. Hell, before the final boss, you have to fight the same mini-boss about four times. It's like they were running out of ideas, a theory supported by the ending kinda ripping off Earthbound. Also, the game is extremely rare. How rare? Well, I was emulating this, and it was hard for me to find a copy of this. Finding regular Saturn games to play illegally is hard enough; now raise that to the power of Panzer Dragoon Saga. Still, though, this is a game that's worth the trip to Egypt (semi-obscure Indy reference). It's a lot like sex with me: you'll probably never have it, and it's not going to last long, but trust me, it's going to be something you remember for the rest of your life. I can't give it an award, since Bushwald sort of did that earlier, so I guess I'll end this with a score. The stupids may rejoice. Again. I give this game a ni.........what.......this....this can't be.....
- The story is interesting, deep, and very proud of itself.
- Holy crap, they somehow managed to make a rail shooter into an RPG!
- Wow, this game is short.
Extra fight sequence(Holy shit, I don't believe it.) This is the first game on Giant Bomb I've given a rating above 9.0! Those of you scanning my games beaten list may notice several other games there that have 9.0s, to which I respond with "Those were GameSpot." Apparently, at some point in the exodus to this site, my standards for what an excellent game is suddenly shot through the roof. Panzer Dragoon Saga, having the obvious advantage of being on a dragon, apparently met those high standards. Considering this is such a rare thing, I decided I'd honor this game by placing it in my Top 10 video games ever. But which one? We will decide this with a fight! First up is:
Fire Emblem: Seisen no KeifuFight!
The challenge is this: is the game in question Fire Emblem 4? Panzer Dragoon Saga is at a terrible disadvantage, as it isn't Fire Emblem 4. Seisen no Keifu, on the other hand, is, so it wins the match.
Super Smash Bros. Brawl3! 2! 1! GO!
I foresee a lot of you declaring the previous round unfair. Fine, smartasses, I'll play along. The next challenge is this: how long will this last you? Again, PDS gets a merciless ass beating. As I mentioned before, the game is embarrassingly short, and what little replay value there is can be squeezed out rather quickly using multiple saves. Compare this to Brawl, a game with so many game modes, unlockables, and extras, that by the time you're finished with it, Nintendo will have released the next Smash Bros already. (Crafty little bastards...) It almost feels unfair, like pitting a little girl against The Incredible Hulk. And the little girl is a Girl Scout who happened to have the worst timing of anybody in her Troop. Regardless, Brawl easily wins.
Conker's Bad Fur DayBattle!
This is interesting: two under-appreciated early-3D era games that were considered the swan songs of their respective systems. I guess I'll use that as a theme for the next challenge: how good were the games before it (for the entire system, obviously)? The Saturn did have a lot of good titles, but many of them were limited to Japan, so I'm not sure I can count that. The N64, on the other hand, had a lot more non-Japan-only greats that were actually better than what the Saturn was offering. The sole exception is in JRPGs, but again, a lot of the Saturn's classics were Japan only, so Conker's Bad Fur Day wins the battle.
Well, automatic point loss for the smug-douche look on Paet's face. Now then, most of you don't know what Cocoron is. OK, I'll be honest: none of you know what Cocoron is, so let me explain: it was a Japan-only platformer for the NES. A big part of it was character customization, so that shall be the challenge: how much can you customize your character? This one is actually fairer than you'd think, as Panzer Dragoon Saga actually has some fleshed out customization options. You can directly customize the stats of your dragon, determine its class, what spells it learns, and what type of gun Edge uses. Seems pretty good, right? What does Cocoron have? *does calculations* Over 3000 possible characters you can create. Again, it seems a bit unfair, but also again, Panzer Dragoon Saga loses.
And here's another late-life religious RPG with a decent plot. Another thing these games have in common is that they both let you fly. The challenge here is, "Which one is more fun to fly?" Obviously, the victor here is Panzer Dragoon Saga. In Terranigma, you only get to fly the plane very late in the game, and it doesn't really feel like flying; it feels more like the airship from FF4, only you can adjust how high off the ground it is. Compare this to Panzer Dragoon Saga, a game built around flight. You have vast environments in which to fly, battles set far above the sky, and flight the destroys Terranigma...in the eye. What I'm saying is that Panzer Dragoon Saga has finally won.
The new order has been determined. Rejoice. For the third time.