Take me on a fantastic voyage.

It's a fantastic time on my DS as of late. The short and basic, but enjoyable, Summon Night: Twin Age satiated my never-dying action-rpg cravings. And the only reason why I'm not subjecting myself to the supposedly sadistic Final Fantasy IV DS (which was not purchased with money of my own, as I swore to months ago), is that I'm otherwise occupied with Final Fantasy Tactics A2.

I like it. Within its gameplay, it continues where Tactics Advance prevailed in taking the original Tactics and reworking the battle system to create a playable game for those who can't sink a significant amount of time into single battles. It's fun to see all of the familiar classes that I micro-managed in the previous installment and being given more skills with new races and new job to add into the mix. The balance between classes is nice as well; no longer will one find the over-used combos of Assassin/Sniper, Summoner/Red Mage, or Gunner/Mog. Knight. There are plenty of reasons to deviate from the rape-fest of those old standbys. I actually feel a bit overwhelmed over the sheer amount of combinations of combatants I can have in the Main Character's clan. [I'm a giant geek and named my MC "Edgar" and named my Clan "Returners". FFVI, I salute you.]

Some aspects needed more thought. The Laws gameplay element takes Tactic Advances old system and spins it on its head. Laws are no longer recycled on a calendar basis; they are individual challenges for their specific quest. Which prevents the difficulty from ever being piss-easy a lot of the time, but it also means that some quests make following the law a task with a .01% probability of success. An example of this is the "Knockback" law, which penalizes you if you perform any action that results in knocking an opponent into an another tile. Critical hits cause knockback. Way to punish the player for making a speed/agility oriented characters. And the whole point of going through the insanity is to occasionally pick up some rare loot as a bonus for following the law like a good citizen (don't follow it, and your resurrecting rights are revoked for the battle--ouch). Loot is required for letting shop-keepers "invent" new stock instead of it being updated on a regular basis per story progress. But with the mechanics involved in getting the loot for the best abilities, the game almost ensures that most players won't be able to produce these new weapons. And because of this new loot system, the Thief class is only useful for stealing loot from enemies (which, at it's natural percentage of success for stealing from a mob with it's back turned to you, will only yield results 50% of the time). Games that make the player reset constantly for a chance at grabbing the desired loot (which only as a 1/4 chance of happening anyways) are a pain, especially when involves the advancement of your own units. Rare drops are fine, as long as one doesn't have to suspend progress hundreds of times throughout a game to get these desired drops.

Aesthetically, the music in a nice upgrade and the new tunes help set the mood for some environments you find yourself battling. Unfortunately, Tactics A2 finds itself recycling a large number of tracks from the original Tactics Advance which can be grating to the ears of serious veterans to the series. The background environments are gorgeous and the monster sprites have amusing animations (unfortunately, character sprite animations seem to have been ripped directly from the previous iteration). And, making it Tactics Advance tradition, the plot is just as trite as the previous games.

All in all, the game is definitely worth a playthrough. Unfortunately, I doubt I'll find myself as invested as I was in the original simply because of the random chance of coming across the loot needed for awesome weapon upgrades and my impatience towards constantly resetting my games for the desired results (especially over the course of only one battle).


I called it.

Not only was my prediction of Ys Books I & II not being release on Virtual Console this week correct, but let's examine this small piece I wrote on August 1st regarding my feelings on Mega Man 9:

"Mega Man 9 is what happens when Keiji Inafune thinks it'd be cute to ignore the perfectly managable technological resources that could make a gorgeous 2D action game. Instead, what we receive is some sadistic catering to the Mega Man "fans" that haven't picked up a franchise title since before the series moved onto more advanced gameplay in the form of the X series. There's no buster-charging. There's no slides. There's an abundance of 8-bit graphics. Everything so stupidly retro about this release (right down to the promotions), I wouldn't be surprised the this release even had flickering graphics and frame-rates like an NES cartridge would induce."

I FUCKING CALLED IT. Every additional detail of Mega Man 9 only serves to further piss me off.

The ghost of post-E3 '08.

Now what?  What games will I be looking to satiate my gamer appetite for the rest of the year?  Nothing truly amazing game out of this years conferences that I can actually get into without another sizable, financial investment.   It's time for me to get my bearings on what's been announced for the rest of this year and strategize my approach while analyzing my interests.

On the Wii front, there's...the Mischief Makers clone, Wario Land: Shake It!.  Actually, it looks to be a rather entertaining platformer in a different vein from the above-mentioned.  Plus, Overalls Wario makes his triumphant return to gaming.  Who doesn't love that purple overall-sporting, tub-of-lard treasure hunter?  That's about it, however.   I've already said my own piece about Nintendo's E3 conference that leaves me feeling empty for this year.  And the powers-that-be only know when I can spike a sign post through my opponent's head in Mad World.

With the DS, there are a few different options.  From the Abyss is being localized.  Someday...some month...Black Sigil will be released.  Chrono Trigger DS has been announced for this holiday season in North America.  I doubt I'll pick up any of the Dragon Quest remakes; I've yet to finish Dragon Quest VIII (even if I did enjoy what I've played of it).  Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia is an old stand-by due out this year.  Disgaea DS looks like a possibility (but if it's horrible, I'll eventually pick up the PSP Afternoon of Darkness release).  Kirby Super Star Ultra is something I'm reluctant to buy, as Nintendo should have just released it for $8 on Virtual Console.  But I miss playing Milkyway Wishes, Great Cave Offensive, and Revenge of Metaknight enough to warrant the wallet rape that will ensue upon it's release.

Persona 4 is my only interest concerning the PS2.  I believe that with this game, my PS2 will see it's last fresh breath of air drawn.  Which isn't necessarily a bad thing.  The system's had a great selection of titles throughout it's life.  This just means I can get to my enormous back-log of PS2 games that I own and don't yet own.  Bargins, or maybe?

There isn't a damn thing I want on my PSP.  Which I only seem to use for portable PS1 goodness.

So, there I have it.  I don't have a 360 nor do I have a PS3.  My PC isn't set up for gaming and is lucky when it gets Audiosurf to play on it's lowest settings.  I'm afraid this is all I have to look towards.


Where's the game?

This has been bothering me for a while.  Actually, it's been since Guitar Hero's really taken off with sales and has managed to break sales records.  And the question's become more frequent with each new generation of music game, peaking thus far with Guitar Hero: World Tour.  It's the question a lot of musicians I know have asked and a lot of gamers detest, but it's more relevant than ever.  I ask the following as both a gamer and a musician:

Guitar/Bass/Drum players of said games, why even bother paying for this instead of acquiring an instrument and relishing in some real enlightenment?

I understand that as a programmed piece of software, the game forces the player to strum and bang along in rhythm; this could be a major benefit for those lacking musical talent.  People who have never taken an interest in music theory can use it as a tool for learning rhythm, principles behind playing techniques, and the like.  Hell, I can understand playing it just for competing against scores.  But, over the last week or two, we've seen the unveiling of both Rock Band 2's Ion drum set and Guitar Hero: World Tour's new guitar.  

Rock Band 2 Ion drum set
Rock Band 2 Ion drum set

The former, the Rock Band 2 Ion drum set, is an optional, $300 purchase.  Just look at it:
This is a controller to a video game.

The latter, the Guitar Hero: World Tour guitar comes packaged with the forth-coming bundle.  I can't, unfortunately, find a demo image (but most gamers are familiar with the set-up of the standard gaming guitar used by both Rock Band and Guitar Hero).  In addition to the five fret buttons at the top of the neck, there will be a new touch-screen added near the base of the neck for the high-octave guitar and "unbound solos - shred how you want".

At what point do these games stop becoming games and start becoming crappy lesson simulators?  The Ion drums speak for themselves and after such a financial and time investment to purchase and practice for that score, why didn't one bother to just get a real set-up?  The guitar is far less of a simulator compared to the Ion drum set; however, taking style techniques such as slides begins to punch through the thin wall.  In the competition to have the best plastic instruments, which company will add more than one column to the fret board of these guitars?  Which company's software will feature enough drum tracks to become a full-fledged drum simulator?  I pray that this world will never know.