Retro Review: Suikoden 2

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Still not enough room for all of the characters.

Recently, Steve-O and I had the urge to scratch a “retro JRPG” itch. Remembering that Suikoden 2 was added to the Playstation Store for only $10, a much more affordable option than the rare disc which, until then, sold for over $100 used, I went ahead and downloaded it. A game that had been on our bucket list for a long time, but disregarded because of the old price point, we were excited to finally play it. Steve-O especially, as he’s played every main entry title.

We’d played Suikoden 1 and 3 together in past years. While I don’t exactly dislike Suikoden games, they do have two defining features that also happen to be on my RPG pet peeves list: silent protagonists and recruiting a bajillion characters. Recruiting all 108 stars of destiny characters is mandatory if you want to see the best ending, to boot! Suikoden 2 doesn’t stop there when it comes to arbitrary requirements to get the better ending after investing 50 hours in the game. All I have to say is I’m grateful we played the game during Age of Google.

RPG pet peeves aside, Suikoden 2 is a pretty solid JRPG. It takes the groundwork framed by the first Suikoden and improves upon it. You’ll create your own silent (generic and boring) young protagonist, and through a strange series of circumstances, become the leader of a rebel army. You’ll get to name the main character and army, so choose the most inappropriate names you can come up with. Personally, I’m still gravely wounded over not having enough character spaces to name my army the “Fuzzy Beaver” or “Bearded Clam” army. So many missed opportunities…

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Having six characters in battle at one time is helpful when experimenting with new allies.

Suikoden 2’s battle system is a bit different than many turn based games. I love that you’re able to bring six party members along with you, especially since the game FORCES certain characters on you ALL THE TIME! Add that to my RPG pet peeve list. In a game with over 108 recruitable/playable characters, being forced to bring certain characters with me so they can have one line of dialogue during a scene is beyond frustrating. Especially when you have a lot of equipment and Runes to swap around. Armor is relatively standard fare, but character weapons are unique to each character and can’t be removed. These add some individuality to a game where interchangeable Runes can make them blend together.

Certain characters have weapons with Runes embedded in them. This gives their weapons special effects, adding some flare. Some will have extra damage, some will have elemental effects. Each character can also have up to three Rune slots unlocked as they level. This means that you could potentially equip someone with 3 Runes to boost their physical attack prowess, 3 Runes full of magic spells, or whichever combination you desire. You can make some pretty sick physical attackers and mages with the right Rune combinations.This system helps make nearly any characters you select a viable option, but it does mean you’ll spend a lot of time micro-managing when swapping characters. And you will be changing your party up a lot because the game doesn’t really give you a choice not to.

One good feature that does help to offset all the character swapping and leveling you’ll potentially be doing is the experience distribution. The game doesn’t give those sitting out experience, but low level characters will catch up in a matter of a few fights, tops. This is the only hint I got that maybe, just maybe, they DID want us to experiment with different characters.

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Favorite boss design in the game.

I won’t say that Suikoden 2 is difficult, because it isn’t and if I did I’d be harassed with “N00B!” comments. But with that being said, the first boss fight was definitely a wake up call. Everything went from smooth sailing to “Okay maybe this game is serious!” Bosses in this game get multiple turns in a row, counters, and do crazy AoE damage. Sometimes, just for fun, they counter with an AoE attack then do it again on their turn before your characters get a chance to heal. Moral of the story: Never go into a boss fight without resting and getting spells back. You won’t make it long without high damaging runes and heal spells. Aside from the boss fights that actually require some thought and strategy, much of the battle system is a breeze.

The battle simulator fights, however, aren’t all that  great. Truthfully, it’s never been my thing to begin with. So I am a bit biased against them. I find the entire process cumbersome and boring. Half the time we wanted to let Apple do her own thing (This prompts the AI to handle the fighting for you) but she typically got units killed so we’d have to take matters into our own hands. Unlike other games of this nature, the player isn’t given a very clear picture of what their goal is. There were way, way too many hidden agendas and forced “Get your ass kicked by the enemies” for my liking.

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There is no HP meter either, you have to guess based on how many soldiers are left standing.

Don’t let fanboys with nostalgia vision try telling you about how unique the story in this game is, either. Sure, the over-arching plot doesn’t turn into “saving the world from an ultimate evil” like virtually every other JRPG in existence, but there’s plenty more JRPG tropes to go around: Silent protagonist? Check. Annoying characters that you just wanna kill tagging along for the entire journey? Check. Childhood best friend becoming your misled, angsty nemesis? Check. Traumatized child who refuses to speak until the dickbag she worships has his redeeming moment? Check. And that’s not even getting into all the watered down caricatures the characters are. There’s 108 of them, so it’s not like the writers really had any other choice.

As with most other old school JRPGs, the terrible translations make the entire experience more humorous than it probably should be. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Though I have no doubt she really said this!

All in all, Suikoden 2 is a worthy JRPG to take the time to play if you’re a fan of that genre like we are. Steve-O, the Suikoden veteran, gives it a two thumbs up. Suikoden 2 wasn’t masochistic and grind-y enough for our tastes, though…. So maybe we’ll do Earthbound Beginnings next to further torture ourselves!

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Vaklyrie Profile

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Valkyrie’s left leg looks broken…

Yet again, I’ve finally seen a game through to the end after starting and stopping it at least twice. If you’ve been following this blog for a little while you may recall my “10 Most Disappointing Games” list which featured this game. I mainly added it because it couldn’t keep my interest and often frustrated me. With the hype and price tag attached to this game, it was a big disappointment.

With Steve-O’s help, we were able to trudge through it. It’s hard explaining why I restarted this game over and over without understanding the game’s strange mechanics. Valkyrie Profile has a lot of hidden elements which can potentially make or break your experience with it. For starters, there are multiple endings. In order to get the best ending, known as the A ending, you must be playing on a certain difficulty level. That was one of my previous restarts.

**As a short aside, when the game says “Difficulty level” it really means “CONTENT PERCENTAGE.” The only way to explore ALL of the dungeons is to play on Hard mode. If you play on Easy or Normal mode you’ll blow off a lot of extra time because there’s literally nothing else to do.**

Anyway… I don’t remember exactly why I quit the other time, but I’m sure it had something to do with not fulfilling the arbitrary A ending requirements. When the game was re-released for the PSP I got a strategy guide and didn’t pick it back up again until now. I am happy to report Steve-O and I did get the A ending, but unfortunately the Brady  Games guide is about as clear as the game when it comes to explaining what is going in.

Which is to say, not very clear at all.

Valkyrie Profile is a different bird, so to speak. The player controls Valkyrie Lenneth; a Death Goddess who recruits the souls of the dead to become soldiers to fight on Asgard, known as Einherjar. After the prologue and until the conclusion, VP follows a pretty basic formula with random elements thrown in: Start Chapter, recruit soldiers, level soldiers, send 1 or 2 to Valhalla. Rinse and repeat. The soldiers available for recruitment is based on a random game pattern (1-4) that you have no control over or way of knowing without consulting a guide.

There’s an interesting sort of time restriction in place. There’s a war going on, after all. Valkyrie can’t be blowing time partying it up with her new undead friends. Each Chapter (There are 8 in total) has 24 periods. When 24 periods are up, the chapter automatically ends and Valkyrie must endure a performance review from Freya and you get the opportunity to see how the Einherjar you sent up are faring in the war.

Valkyrie Flying

On the world map Valkyrie flies around, searching for areas with abominations to destroy and towns to recruit soldiers in. With the press of a button she will detect either a village or a dungeon. For a character recruitment event, you’re treated to some dialogue (which you’ll see in a cut-scene when you recruit the person) and a white dot pops up on the map. When you go to the village Valkyrie’s search directs you to, you are treated to the recruitment event for a new playable character!

One or two exemptions aside, recruiting new characters is as simple as watching someone die! That’s right. You get a splash of the person’s background and personality, then they get killed, then Valkyrie shows up and the dead person goes, “Of course I’ll fight for Odin, its not like I have much of a choice!” Like I said, its different and kind of weird. The plus side is that through leveling soldiers and sending them to Valhalla, the game encourages you to experiment and use different people. I’m guilty of sticking with the same core group in RPGs. This is nearly impossible in VP. I like it. The game makes it super easy to catch up characters you haven’t been actively using. No, they don’t get EXP when they aren’t with you. Instead, you’re rewarded Event Experience for traversing obstacles and completing dungeons. Which is a whole other can of worms.

VP is one of those games that tries (rather unsuccessfully) to meld RPG and action elements. Dungeon layouts are non-traditional as well. Instead of having an overhead or behind view of the character, it is done laterally. Valkyrie moves left and right. When prompted, you can also move up or down to go to a new room or section. The concept is simple, but the larger areas are very easy to get lost in and the map is nearly impossible to interpret in any helpful or meaningful way. There are obstacles to jump over and sometimes scenery to interact with. More annoying is this strange crystal-creating nonsense. Looks something like this:

Valkyrie Crystal

These crystals serve many functions. They can freeze enemies, be used as jumping platforms, create temporary floating platforms, and be broken down into small building blocks. Unfortunately, the game does little to really explain how to use them. We were probably about halfway through the game when we accidentally realized we could make temporary (almost invisible) shimmery platforms to climb to new areas. Incredibly precise maneuvering with frustrating and poorly responsive controls is required in some of the latter dungeons. The jump delay is a particular nuisance. And for a loot ho like myself who can’t stand the chance of missing out on a good weapon or spell book, the combination of poor platforming and nonnegotiable maps made for many annoying moments. To find out I spent 20 minutes trying to reach a treasure chest that ended up being a low level spell I already had 3 tomes for… I can’t put the fury into words.

The game’s complete disregard for transparency goes well beyond game layout and dungeon crawling into the equipment and inventory management process as well. I’m not completely against figuring stuff out as I go along, but this game is ridiculous. In VP you can turn items into other items, or you can turn them into MP (Materialize Points) and make your own healing items and equipment. We were able to figure that part out. But God help you if you’re trying to make sense of half the stats or descriptions on weapons, equipment and consumable items. Weapons had “Attack Trust” and “Hit Trust” numbers attached to them. Being something I’d never heard of before, I did a quick Google search to find that, according to the gaming community, they didn’t mean anything at all. Nothing noticeable, anyway. Even the skills characters learned in battle had ambiguous descriptions. Figuring out how to execute the abilities in battle didn’t clear our confusion up half the time.

I’m going to take this opportunity to mention that this game either has really bad translations or the writers at Enix have some pretty messed up ideas about what heroic personality traits are. Going along with character skills, there are personality traits you can level or de-level to increase your Einherjar’s Hero Value. Many of the personality traits were downright hilarious. There were many character-specific ones, such as the noteworthy “Hates Men” and “Voluptuous” traits. I’ll let you try to figure out which one is considered a positive or negative hero trait.

Sadly, the mismanagement runs into the battle system as well. There are a couple different types of melee characters (Good luck figuring out who can wear what type of sword and armor after you spend the MP to make them, by the way), archers, and also mages. Each character is assigned a button on the Playstation controller. When you press their corresponding button, they attack with their weapon. Each weapon has a different amount of hits for a total of 3 possible attacks. You can interchange who attacks when. So one character can waste their three attacks breaking the enemy’s Guard, which is an annoyance I won’t get into, and the other three can take turns pummeling the enemy. Certain weapons can launch enemies into the air or put them on the ground. Hitting enemies while they’re in the air yields extra experience.

Mages will cast the corresponding spell you’ve assigned to their “attack” slot. You’ll hardly ever want mages to do that. Why? Well, because if you spend extra time accessing the battle menu to cast the same spell, it will be an AoE spell instead of a single target spell (not all of them, you get the pleasure of figuring it out yourself) and chances are the mage will one-shot or nearly one-shot everything. Yeah, the game wants you using mages, in case you couldn’t tell. Steve-O found that little tidbit out by browsing online. No in-game tutorials told us that life-saving fact. I can’t imagine completing some of the late-game dungeons without abusing this feature.

If your mage doesn’t happen to end the battle in one stroke, they then get to sit on their thumbs for about 6 turns because their wait time is super long. This means you don’t get to use them as item dispensers or anything… they just get to waste space. Wait-time reducing skills notwithstanding, that is. By the end of the game we still couldn’t understand why certain characters couldn’t take their turns when we thought they could, and vice versa. About halfway through the game we stopped trying to figure out the minor details. Coincidentally, this was also when dungeons started featuring random encounter enemies with no weaknesses, mountains of hit points, and AoE attacks that can do more damage than your characters have for hit points. Or, God forbid, the only weapon they can actually be touched with (Beast Slayer, Dragon Slayer, etc.) broke and you have NO other options for whittling down their HP for more than 1 point at a time. I am NOT exaggerating.

This is an original Playstation game. I won’t comment on the graphics except to say they’re about standard for the generation and there are a handful of anime-style cut-scenes. The character designs aren’t particularly good. In fact, the character images displayed when they speak are laughable. Half of the time they’re cross-eyed and the colors don’t match what their sprites look like. It is almost as hilariously awful as the voice acting and dialogue! Most of the music isn’t outstanding, but I do like the battle theme. And you’ll be sick to death of the character recruitment music by the end of the game.

The end of the game… Yeah. As I said, we got the “best ending” which, of course, was a nonsensical, contrived happy ending. I almost feel obliged to say the extra precautions we took to ensure we got the best ending were worth it, but I don’t. I don’t want my happy ending if it is uninspired and predictable. However, I did like the Norse Mythology the story relied very heavily on. I think Norse lore is severely under utilized compared to Greek Mythology. While I don’t feel that the writing, or actually the entire game, was uninspired, I do think it doesn’t quite accomplish what it hoped to. VP is one of those games that suffers an identity crisis. In this case it happens to be “Am I an RPG or am I an action game?” Yes, there are examples of excellent games that manage to merge two different genres together splendidly. This is not one of those examples.

Complete and utter randomness; from what characters you will be able to recruit to dungeons you can access, compiled with terrible descriptions for items and equipment, topped with bizarre enemy weaknesses and difficulty, lent to a pretty bad taste in my mouth when all was said and done. For the price my husband paid to bag a copy of this somewhat rare game at the time, I’d say it isn’t really worth it. You’d have to be a complete RPG enthusiast or video game collector to shell out more than $20 to play this. Besides, it got a PSP port only a handful of people bothered to play. Of all the classic over-hyped RPGs to try scrounging up and playing, I wouldn’t put this one on the top of my list. Which is a shame, because I found the concept and Norse Mythology base unique and interesting. From a game play standpoint, I found it tiresome and annoying more often than I’d hoped.

Parasite Eve Replayed!

Parasite_Eve_CoverartOh, the things I learned about mitochondria… Like how to use it as hair gel.

Parasite Eve and I have history. Good history, in fact (minus my first attempt at the final boss but we won’t go down THAT memory lane). I like this game enough to bestow upon it an honored slot on my video game top ten list! Recently, I decided to fix slcantwell’s egregious oversight of never playing this Squaresoft gem. So, we plodded away at this 10-ish hour game for a couple of weeks and finally ended Eve’s spawn last night.

There will be no mention of the Chrysler Tower or collecting hundreds of pieces of junk in this review. 99.9% of the time we hang out we have two little people running around. Ain’t no mommies got time for crazy optional stuff. I did the Chrysler Tower years ago and leveled Aya to 99, but never ever will I farm junk for Wayne. Unless the reward was a picture of his junk or something.

My point is, this was a quick run-through so she could experience this overlooked classic. She wanted to know what all of my fuss with PE was about, anyway. And I wanted to test my memory with a few things. Turns out, the overly-critical academic actually liked the game and my memory was, well, what I expect it to be nowadays.

For those of you who haven’t played this game (go download it from PSN and play it now, fools!) it’s a very unique experience; even stacked against gaming offerings released in the two generations following the Playstation. When I first played Parasite Eve, I was 16 and my love of RPGs was newfound. I’d played Final Fantasy VII, VIII, and probably some other ones, and Chrono Cross. Squaresoft could do no wrong in my eyes (Oh, how times have changed). When I saw this game with female lead characters made by Squaresoft, toting a unique action system with a sci-fi vibe, I ponied up the cash immediately. It’s rated M (17+) and thankfully Gamestop didn’t care about age-appropriate suggestions at the time. PE was released after FFVII. They even use that as a selling-point on the packaging. You know, “Coming from the makers of Final Fantasy VII,” or something like that. It might’ve been a little misleading, since you can’t really compare the two. Yes, they are both RPGs made by the same company, but they’re of different breeds. Obviously, Final Fantasy games are fantasies, set in whole new worlds which take hours to establish and explore. As I mentioned, Parasite Eve is a science fiction tale. It’s based on a Japanese novel, which also has a movie adaptation with the same name. I’ve played/read/watched them all. The video game adaptation is almost like a sequel to the novel, taking place in New York City.

And gaming gods help me, even stating the plot premise is going to sound ridiculous. The game is about saving humankind from their own mitochondria.

There, I said it.

The story is as chuckle-inducing B-movie cheesy as it sounds. And then some. Especially with the delivery, which is done through completely over embellished dialogue. “…” and “…!?” and “WHAT THE…!” are beaten to bloody pulps, they’re used so much. All these years later, I’m still not sure how someone would speak and/or express “…!?” Someone please link or send a video of this expression being performed. In between the “…” pauses, the characters will most likely be talking about evolution and mitochondria. The idea is that “Mitochondria Eve,” (the title given to the first female ‘discovered’ when the human genome was traced back to its origins somewhere in Africa) has finally manifested and decided to take control from the humans, their ‘vehicle’ used to ‘create the perfect environment for them.’ I’ve gotta ask how modern-day New York City was their envisioned utopia. To be fair, the silly premise is backed up by scientific facts and if you pay attention you might learn a few things. Like, did you know that if all the mitochondria in a human’s body worked together at the same time they could produce 200,000 volts of electricity? This fact is used to justify humans erupting into flames at the drop of a hat all over the place. If they aren’t getting barbequed by their own mitochondria they’re melting into blobs of mitochondrial ichor to become the uterus for the Ultimate Being; AKA- final boss fight. And what a final boss it is! We’re talking multiple forms, along with a one-hit-kill-one-wrong-turn-will-cost-you-chase-sequence- at the end. This definitely ranks high on my RPG final boss fight list.

So what hope could humanity possibly have against their own mitochondria which can fry them to crispy bits if they so (apparently) desired? The main character, of course! Aya Brea, a rookie cop in New York City, becomes the hero. Thanks to dumb luck, really. Without giving away too much about her ties to the main baddie, her mitochondria underwent a different mutation, becoming a natural enemy to the “master race” mitochondria. In terms of game play, this manifests itself in the form of “Parasite Energy.” Think of it as magic spells. Parasite Energy offers itself in both offensive and defensive ways. You can heal, remove status effects, cast Preraise, and transform into your own version of a mitochondria angel of death. The spell is Liberate. And it changes everything. Be absolutely sure you don’t leave the final zone, the museum, without it. Using Parasite Energy is much like casting magic in other RPGS; you open up your menu and select whichever spell you wish to cast from a list. It is a consumable resource (Can’t make things too easy now), but instead of having items to replenish your PE stock, you must wait for the PE bar below your health to fill on its own. This method means you are cramming less items into your already limited inventory, and it also adds another layer of strategy. After casting a few spells, you’ll notice the bar filling up slower and slower, until you’ve come to the point when you’ve used all the medicines you brought along and your PE still hasn’t replenished to the point when you can  cast Full Cure. One way to bypass this is to change your armor. For whatever reason, this resets your PE charge rate. But it means you have to gamble utilizing a turn to change into inferior armor, risk taking more damage instead of inflicting damage or healing.

Aside from PE energy, the battle system is a bird of it’s own feather. You have a traditional ATB, like many RPGs. While the ATB is filling, you have control of Aya, and must dodge enemy attacks in the designated battle screen. Enemies can bite, shoot fireballs or poisonous gas at you, or grab you. Speaking of poisonous gas, poison sucks in this game! Sucks as in don’t get hit by it because it inflicts a substantial amount of damage. You can mod your armor to have “anti-poison” which is a joke. The game doesn’t tell you what the percentage resistance is, but seeing as how I wasted a mod permit to add a slot for it and the next fight I got in I was poisoned…  it wasn’t worth it. Anyway, when it’s Aya’s turn to perform an action, she attacks with good old-fashioned guns. Something I get sick of seeing in today’s video game market, but back then it was fresh and different. I’d only really played platformers and fantasy games with funky swords and magic until then. There are rifles, shotguns, machine guns, rocket launchers… all sorts of goodies. I really enjoy the simple yet satisfying method of improving Aya’s arsenal. Weapons and armor (of which you can only equip one of each at a time) come with three parameters. They also may or may not have additional effects; i.e. 2x attack, item capacity increases, elemental damage… stuff like that. Added parameters and effects can be moved with a Tool from one gun or armor to another. You can shift ALL THREE parameters from one gun or armor to another. Alas, unless you have a Super Tool you can only move one added effect at a time. Each gun or armor has a pre-designated number of effect slots. But with a mod permit or trading card you can add more. For guns I recommend 3x attack, burst, and whatever else. We went with poison… it rocked. Enemies fell to poison while Aya’s ATB was charging many times for us. With armor you can add HP+, extra item capacity, status ailment resistances (which aren’t reliable) or PE boosts.

Changes are, you’ll spend the bulk of the game with the same gun and armor, boosting their stats through the roof. A great feature of Parasite Eve is the ability to carry over your weapon and armor of choice into New Game Plus. Give them a snazzy name, and they’ll come with you into subsequent adventures. In New Game Plus, you’ll want to  continue boosting their stats to the point where barely anything touches you and then take on the Chrysler Tower. I said I wasn’t gonna talk about that optional 99-floor nightmare, but I just want to make the point that there is additional content worth doing after completing the initial adventure.

Aya also levels relatively traditionally in RPG terms. You gain experience for killing mitochondria mutants, level, and your stats increase. If you’re lucky Aya will learn a new PE spell. You will always gain Bonus Points (BP) which can be applied in a plethora of ways. When selecting the BP section of the menu, you’ll be given the option to increase Aya’s ATB recharge rate, her item capacity, or one parameter on any weapon or armor of choice. Again, very simple, but that’s what I like. Hard to screw up or forget.

The game never leaves New York City, but the scenery doesn’t get stale. You’ll go to Central Park, Soho, and even the Statue of Liberty before all is said and done. The only zone I really don’t like is the sewers. And that’s because sewers in RPGs and I have a tumultuous past. Meaning I hate them. The sewers in PE are terrible because they’re like a grid maze with annoying enemies that blind and treasure that’s so good you won’t want to risk missing it. I like every other area in the game available for exploration; even the large National Museum of Science at the end, though I find it easy to get lost in there, too. But who am I kidding? I’m basically an expert at getting lost in games.

I mentioned the cheesy dialogue delivery and story line, so perhaps I should mention the characters and other bits of presentation. The wonderful irony in this game is that you’d expect there to be all sorts of female stereotypes, given the main character is a young women (blond and skinny, of course, but let’s not get too carried away!). I personally found the more obvious stereotypes directed towards the all-male supporting cast. Daniel, Aya’s partner at the precinct, is an “angry black man” who punches out more than one person before the game is over. Maeda, a scientist from Japan, is your typical Japanese man who can’t manage a coherent sentence around a pretty girl. And Aya, the main character, is a rookie cop hesitant hero type, but there isn’t much emphasis placed on the fact that she has a vagina. In the opening of the game she goes to an opera with a date, who remains nameless and you never hear about him again after she elbows him the hell out of her way when he’s freaking out about dying. By all rights, he should have erupted into flames along with the rest of the audience. I’m okay with this particular plot hole because without it we’d never get to experience him saying, “Oh Jesus… I… I don’t want to die…!” before Aya knocks him over with her shoulder and he is never heard from again.

Yeah, this game has a lot of plot holes like that. They’re mainly silly things, like “I was ahead of him, how did he get to this room before me?” But there are some significant ones, like, “How did that Navy Admiral know Aya is the only one immune to Eve’s powers?” My favorite, however, is the very unlikely evacuation of NYC in ONE night. Hah!

For its release date, PE’s graphics were pretty good. I love the soundtrack and listen to it quite often, minus the recycled bad opera tracks. This is before the time of voice acting, so there’s no worrying about bad VAs. Looking back without my fangirl lenses on, I realize this game has quite a few flaws and comes across as pretty silly 90% of the time. But in terms of gameplay, it is still a unique and fun experience while offering a challenge. One of my main gripes is how difficult leveling is. there are no random fights and enemy spawn rates are quite low until you get to the final zone. And after leveling Aya to 99 once, I have no desire to spend hours leveling there probably ever again (Levels don’t carry over into New Game Plus, in case you were wondering).

If you’re a fan of Squaresoft before the disastrous merge with Enix and haven’t played this game yet, do it already!

E3 Console Wars: Shena’s Take

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Oh, gee, it’s black! (PS4)

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And so is this one! Shock and awe! (XBox One)

Up until Sony’s press conference that I stayed up late for last night, I wasn’t very enthused about the next generation of gaming. I mean, the Wii U has been released for months and I don’t yet own it. Do I plan to? Hopefully. Nintendo has not yet disappointed me with my favorite franchises (Mario Kart, Kirby, Super Mario…) and Hubby might just die if he doesn’t have access to the eventual Legend of Zelda U release. The New Super Mario Bros. Wii U (Or whatever the hell it’s called) looks fun, yeah, but it also looks like a shinier version of the game I already own on the Wii. Not enough to make me think I “need” the newer Wii just yet. If they give a release date for Bayonetta 2, then yes, I will pester my husband to make sure we have one in time for that game. Hopefully Nintendo announces some core games set to be released in the near future to rev up their consumers just a bit more.

The real question, of course, is whether a family is going to opt for the new Playstation or new XBox. There are hardly enough console exclusives between the two anymore to get the average family (and average income) to want both on launch. When it came to 360 and PS3, we weren’t sure which system we were going to go with for a while. We saved our pennies, all the while observing and debating. I worked at GameStop at the time, so I was very tuned into everything that was going on. Yes, the 360 was cheaper on release, but also more cheaply made! I could not fathom the number of people who purchased or had to swap out multiple 360 systems due to the infamous Red Ring. And they kept giving Microsoft more of their money! I couldn’t believe it! Every week before we sent out our defective games and systems shipment, our backroom was loaded to the ceiling with broken 360s. It got to the point where GameStop stopped offering store warranties on the things for a while. In the end, we figured we would rather cough up the extra dough and have a system that proved to be more reliable. Plus, I rationalized, I would have a system to play all my PS1 and PS2 games on when my PS2 died.

My PS2 is still alive and kicking, by the way.

And so is that fat 60GB PS3 we purchased. And we use that for everything. We swapped out the hard drive because we filled it. It is our entertainment hub for all of our Blu-rays and DVDs, Netflix, Hulu and Vudu. We don’t pay for cable so these streaming services are gold to us. So, yes, I will admit that our video game console has turned into more than just something to play games on. But when it comes to E3, I want to see games and game-related features on the systems.

Over the last few weeks, all the rumors and speculation about the nasty crap Microsoft was pulling with the XBox One left a bad taste in my mouth. I felt like it set a bad precedent for the future of gaming, and thus, deflated most of my interest with the next-gen consoles. The enormous backlash they received was deserved, I feel. The announcements/rumors about the XB1 requiring always online (which turned into a “once every 24 hours” requirement) struck a bad chord. Especially with Americans frustrated with the recent revelation that their government is, and has been, putting that pesky Patriot Act to use. Most of us (like myself) always suspected the surveillance was going on and are none-too-surprised, but it leads to speculation about where to draw the line, what is “privacy” when we are constantly connected on an online and global scale, and what does “Home of the Free” even mean anymore? I don’t mean to make this political, I’m just saying the timing was really bad. And the concept was worse.

Sony smartened up this round. They waited. They watched. When they saw Microsoft make their announcement and observed the backlash that followed, they went the opposite direction. As with the PS3, they have a system that is capable of requiring constant online connectivity and DRM, but they’re going the safe route. Last night they announced there’s no online requirement to play disc-based games, no necessity to log on to PSN every whenever to, I don’t know, monitor the games you’re playing and make sure you aren’t letting your friend borrow them or something? All the mumbo-jumbo with used games Microsoft talked about confused me. I like to think I’m a pretty good reader. Yet I still had a hard time wrapping my head around what you can, can’t, must, and don’t have to do whenever you buy a game for that system. I’d rather not bother with any of that crap. According to Sony’s press conference last night, I won’t have to.

Then there’s the pricing. I’m one of those crazy people who spent $600 on a PS3, so I’d be a bit of a hypocrite if I spoke much on that. After finding out the XB1 was set to release at $499, I crossed my fingers that the PS4 would be the same price or less. Again, Sony learned their lesson from the last round and priced this system a lot lower. Not only does the XB1 cost more, but the long term dollar impact of potentially being charged a fee by the retailers whenever you buy a used game (if I am understanding it correctly) remains to be seen. Plus you have to figure in your online memberships for both consoles if you want to play online multiplayer. I’m also safely assuming retail costs for games will go up an average of $10 or so from here on out.

Gaming is more expensive than it used to be, and people don’t have the disposable income they used to have. I spend all day working with people who have lost their jobs and are struggling to find something else that will hopefully pay something comparable to their last salary before their unemployment insurance runs out. Guess what? 95% of the time the new job they “settle” with is significantly lower paying than their last one. Many people go without cable and internet to make ends meet. Microsoft is telling them not to bother trying to save up for a XB1, because it’ll turn into an overpriced paperweight if they have to turn their internet off for a month or two to catch up on bills. I also live in a very rural area and meet with people every day who don’t have internet access. THEY DO EXIST.

I think the collective heads of a bunch of Microsoft Executive-So-and-Sos got a little too swollen with the success of the 360. Seems to me that they’re asking their fanbase to put up with an awful lot of crap. Honestly, I couldn’t care less about Halo or many of the other exclusive games. Except Killer Instinct.  I played the first one to death because it came with the SNES my parents bought me. I’m more excited about new IPs, and Sony is brave enough to take the plunge with great new IPs for their 7 year old and the new baby on the way.

For people who are already Playstation gamers, the PSP requirement to play online is a low blow. I feel for you guys. That was the only part of Sony’s press conference that felt shady to me. Don’t get me wrong, I love my PSP membership and enjoy the free games and betas because of it. But it is all about having options. Not being mandated to fork over more money. Free online was one of the big Playstation selling points up until now. And really, how many games are released that don’t include some sort of online multiplayer anymore? Very few, and their numbers grow increasingly thinner by the day.

Sony has finally redeemed themselves to me. With the release of the uber-expensive PS3 and allowing Microsoft to dominate gaming for a while, I’m psyched that they are making smarter moves and listening to their consumers. I’m also excited to see what the Indie developers they picked up have planned. And now that I do video game blogging and social media, I know I’ll be putting that “Share” button built into my controller to good use!

I know Hubby and I will be speaking with our wallets more so this gen of gaming than the last. As much as I still absolutely love gaming and try to find time to play a little every day, priorities change when you have a toddler. Okay, mostly my expendable income changes, but you get my drift. Thanks to Sony’s E3 press conference I can’t wait to see what the future of gaming has in store.

Here’s hoping (and sort of not hoping) that Nintendo can convince me I need a Wii U before E3 is over!

Ten Most Disappointing Video Games

I admit, I’m a complete fangirl when it comes to a lot of video games. While I am slowly learning my lesson when it comes to spending my money on a video game based solely on the title, I’m still very guilty of doing so. Thus leading to imminent disappointment when the game I’ve purchased and played did not live up to my expectations. The following list of games are titles that are almost all entries in series I’d already grown to love; a couple of them are games that I never clicked with, or were, in my opinion, over-hyped. I was tempted to title this entry “Ten Worst Video Games” but, while a few of these games are bad, I think in most cases they are just lackluster or totally miss the mark in association with the title attached to them. You be the judge!

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Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories

I purchased this title when I still had a backwards compatible DS. And before it became an insurmountable task to collect and play every Kingdom Hearts title out there. This is when the plot started to get convoluted and weird. Something I’ve come to expect from Square RPGs nowadays. It is something I can excuse when the battle system is engaging and fun, but they managed to completely screw it up in this game. Instead of utilizing the fast-paced and rewarding battle system already established in Kingdom Hearts, the developers had to try and fix something that wasn’t broken.  Battles are carried out through a stupid card deck system. No, I did not purchase a Kingdom Hearts game to play Magic: The Gathering, thanks. I wanted to kill things with my Keyblade. Not make card decks and combos and count numbers other than HP and MP. It wasn’t what I was expecting and I lost interest pretty quickly. I think I made it to Agrabah and quit for good. Evidently, this game was met with commercial and critical success. They even made a remake for it on the PS2.  I don’t believe I even know any Kingdom Hearts fans who really enjoyed this game, and I don’t feel like there’s a big hole in my life for not completing it.

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The Third Birthday (Parasite Eve III)

Parasite Eve is another series that Squaresoft hooked me on with the first entry, only to laugh in my face as I gave them more of my money for the second and third releases. Having Parasite Eve as one of my favorite games of all time doesn’t make a good case for any of its predecessors. But at least with Parasite Eve II I understood the direction they were going with it. Sort of. Parasite Eve was, at the time of its release, Squaresoft’s red-headed stepchild. It broke away from their RPG mold, adapting a sort of turn-based, sort of real-time, and sort of sci-fi/horror potluck with a female main character (!!) that ended up being an awesome and unique experience. For Parasite Eve II, they went the more survival horror game route, shamelessly copying Resident Evil’s outdated mechanics.

For The Third Birthday, they went off the deep end. Seems to me video game companies are trying to turn EVERY franchise into an action-shooter nowadays. Squaresoft/Square Enix suck at these, as per another one of their bastard child games further down this list. I honestly don’t know what they were thinking with Third Birthday.  I’m pretty sure the only thing I liked about this game was the music: the remixed tunes from Parasite Eve are pretty sweet. Everything else is frustrating and asinine. Maeda was modeled after a serial pedophile. There is next to no story exposition: every chapter the player is expected to read through data files to figure out what the hell is happening because the writers at Square Enix keep insisting that time travel is a viable storytelling mechanic. It’s not. Especially the way you guys keep doing it. So stop already!

The battle system devolved from an action-RPG game, to a survival horror wannabe, and finally to a poorly executed over the shoulder shooter/action game.

I had to play through this piece of crap twice to get the good ending, which was their way of wussing out on a different plot mechanic and opening the doors for yet another game. I’m hoping this title didn’t sell enough copies for them to bother with more entries. Honestly, I don’t think I can take the disappointment anymore. I wish this game had remained a Japanese portable exclusive as originally planned so I wouldn’t have exposed myself to this crap and added it to my Parasite Eve library.

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Valkyrie Profile

I’ve tried playing through this game at least three times by now. Everyone hyped about how awesome it was online, and due to its super rarity, it cost me more than I should’ve ever paid for a Playstation game. This is an example of a game that didn’t “click” with me for some reason. I couldn’t get attached to any of the characters or the story. My impressions of the battle system were mixed; I don’t think I found it particularly bad, but it was weird and I wasn’t crazy about it. And every time I restarted it I found out after the fact that I did something wrong and couldn’t get the good ending, killing my drive to finish my current play through. Then I would put the game down in favor of playing something else, and not find the time to go back to it.

As it has been years since my last stab at completing this game, I don’t have much else to say about it. At some point in my life I do plan on brushing the dust off yet again and sticking through until the end.  For the amount of money this game was going for on EBay at the time, and the collective reviews from companies and gamers on this title, I was expecting a more absorbing RPG experience. Not something that loses my interest 10 gameplay hours in every single time.

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Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII

I’m sure you were expecting this game to pop up on my list after my Third Birthday hint. This is Square Enix”s first botched attempt at turning one of their RPG series into an action-shooter. Due to the mixed critical reactions from this game, you would’ve thought they’d leave it at this and not put us through the same painful experience (obviously they didn’t learn from previous mistakes). But anyway, this game is part of the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII. Meaning: we needed a new cash cow and the suggestive finale of Final Fantasy VII wasn’t good enough so we’re gonna come up with a bunch of stupid spin-offs and sequels to spoon feed our audience with even though their fanfictions have better material than this crap!

I liked Vincent. I thought playing a game as him and exploring his rich background in the Turks with Professor Hojo and Lucrecia wouldn’t be a bad experience. Instead of being smart and making a prequel, flashbacks were incorporated and Dirge of Cerberus was really about fighting some new stupid group of antagonists who want to destroy the planet. Throw in your anticipated Final Fantasy VII cameo appearances, and that’s all there is to it. A very disappointing game that hardly deserves to have the words Final Fantasy VII in its title.

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Breath of Fire II

I already raged about how this is the worst J-RPG ever in a previous blog post. Rather than reliving that traumatizing experience, I will say it was not only disappointing (I played it after Breath of Fire III, which was a great game), it was downright terrible. I’m pretty open-minded about a lot of things, but I can’t rationalize how anyone can enjoy playing this game. I read comments from other gamers about how much they love this game. When I think about the great RPGs on the SNES, again, I can’t comprehend how anyone could sit down to play this game because they want to. It’s a culmination of everything to NOT do when creating a video game. Play Breath of Fire III and be happy with that.

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Silent Hill: Book of Memories

I’ll admit, I really should have seen this one coming. In my defense, I needed something to play on my Vita, and I figured a Silent Hill themed dungeon crawler/hack-n-slash had the potential for passive portable entertainment. You know, a RNG hack-n-slash with Silent Hill monsters, music, and weapons? Can’t be all  bad, right?

For starters, they didn’t just throw in some SH skins and music and called it a day. The creators threw in all sorts of other survival horror elements which just don’t work. Like item durability, as seen in SH:Downpour. I strongly dislike item durability in most games. In Silent Hill’s case, I  can’t wrap my head around the fact that a plank of wood supposedly has about the same durability as a freakin’ fire axe or katana! To make matters worse, someone figured it’d be a great idea to make monsters have specific weapon weaknesses on top of weapon durability, limited inventory, and random drops. One particular enemy that made my life difficult was the Needler. The Needlers even blocked my GUN bullets! Upon further investigation, I found out it was apparently weak to the katana, a weapon I didn’t even know existed in the game at that point of time even though I’d fought over 2 dozen of the stupid things. And, unlike every other RNG dungeon crawler game I’ve played, there’s no hub or stash to safely tuck away a good weapon you might want to save for later. Tell me how that makes any sense in a game where monsters will only take a decent amount of damage from one particular weapon?

Oh, the frustration. It became apparent to me that if I didn’t want to find anyone else dumb enough to pay money for this game and play multiplayer, I had no business turning the game on. Pile that on top of no checkpoints, one save point per level, and repetitive puzzles, and you have a game that could’ve been a creepy-cool hack-n-slash if they’d followed a formula I feel has become lost in gaming: K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid!).

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Spice World

You can laugh at me all you want, but the truth of the matter is teenage me absolutely loved the biggest musical act to come out of England since the Beatles. Imagine my excitement when two of my favorite things were combined into one experience! In fact, I remember my mother blatantly telling me they decided to go with a Playstation for my Christmas present so I could get this game and the Xena: Warrior Princess game (Xena was, and is still, my favorite television show EVER).

Anyway, I eagerly popped the game in my Playstation and got going. I don’t remember exactly what I was expecting, but I know I wasn’t expecting to have already experienced everything the game had to offer in less than two hours. All you do is pick which Spice Girl you want to be, pick which song you want to mix, and do stupid dance moves. Instead of including almost their entire library of songs, there were only FIVE songs to mix, and only 9 selections from each song to use, if my memory serves me correctly. Then you go through the same dance move rotation with a 1970’s disco king every time, and assign moves to each girl for the performance. The grand finale is watching your “show” and pressing buttons to select the camera view.

Whoop-dee-freakin’-doo! There’s some footage from some boring “exclusive” interview along with other video footage that was overplayed on every news network at the time (like Geri Halliwell pinching Prince Charles’ bum) but that’s it. There was no game. There was almost nothing to do. I’m going to go ahead and say this is the most shallow video game I’ve ever played.

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The Last Remnant

The Last Remnant is a prime example of Square Enix releasing fugly game content wrapped in a pretty package.  I purchased this game for my 360. In hindsight, I should’ve stuck with Lost Odyssey and been satisfied with having one awesome turn-based RPG for that console. Aside from the music, promising storyline (from what I saw, anyway, and I’m bummed because I did actually want to know what happened), and flashy graphics, this game was a mess.

Too much of the battle system was random. Instead of controlling each individual party member, you divide your party into “unions” and give them general commands and the AI takes it from there. Bad idea. The computer gets to decide what your units do. Thereby deciding what abilities they learn, because the abilities characters learn is decided by what actions they perform. Which means I didn’t have the healing abilities I needed when the time came because my characters hadn’t used them enough because they never seemed to be available in the totally randomized action command list!

Add this to sitting through terrible loading screens during battles just to see a message that a unit is “botched.” Another extremely frustrating aspect of this game. When the leader of a union is down or KO’ed or whatever, the rest of the union can’t act. They stand there and pick their noses instead of swinging their weapons at something. Then they force ME to sit there and pick my nose because the game insists on reminding me the units refuse to act every time it’s their turn with 2 minute loading screens. Nope, not my idea of a good time.

I’ve heard they since released a PC version of this game and fixed a lot of this game’s issues, but I’m certainly not giving them any more of my money to find out what happened, even if they sold it for only $1 on Steam.

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Soul Calibur V

I’ve been a fan of Soul Calibur since I stumbled upon one of the games in my local arcade years ago. I purchased Soul Calibur II-IV, and somehow was smart enough to save my money when it came to Soul Calibur V. The fact that I bought all the other games is significant, I feel, because SC is the only arcade-style fighting series I’ve ever followed. The only other fighting game I actually owned was Killer Instinct and that’s because it was packaged with the SNES my parents bought me when I was young.

My gaming partner brought over SCV and we played it for a night. That’s all it took to play through the Story mode due to laziness and/or budget cuts. Instead of each character getting their own story mode to play, you only get to experience Patroklos’ journey. He is one of Sophitia’s two children in this game, both of which are new characters with the same fighting style.  He is whiny and boring. I really can’t believe the developers couldn’t be bothered to create 2-3 hour story  modes for each character. I always found it the most enjoyable way to get accustomed to the different fighting styles.

Also, Talim and Seong Mi-na are my favorite characters to play as. Now do you understand the depth of my disappointment? Namco Bandai Games didn’t even do me the courtesy of giving any new characters their fighting style (sorry, Kilik’s replacement doesn’t count!). When you go and remove my staple characters from a fighting game, I’m given little reason to want to play it. And there is NO reason Talim, the youngest character of them all, can’t be in a game that takes place 15 years later. Did they kill her off when I wasn’t paying attention or something? I was actually looking forward to playing as a more grown up version of her until I realized she was cut from the roster. WTF?

Throwing in Ezio Auditore as a guest character wasn’t even enough to get me to buy this game. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll pick up a used copy down the road.

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Final Fantasy X-2

This is it. This is the game that signaled the decline of the Final Fantasy series for me. This is the mother of all terrible sequels. This is the game I was quite satisfied carrying on with the rest of my life pretending I hadn’t spent over 100 hours trying to get a 100% score just to be screwed out of it by .2%. And now, as if to further rub my face in a pile of chocobo feces, they’re bundling this abomination with the FFX HD remake… basically forcing me to purchase this game again! It’s a recurring nightmare, I tell you!

If you read my Top Ten Favorite Video Games list, you know I hold Final Fantasy X in pretty high esteem. It very well may be my favorite video game of all time. I know this sets the stage for a whole lot of disappointment on my end, but I don’t think I could have ever conceived such a disastrous way to pick up where FFX left off. The conclusion was perfect: a  satisfying, well-written solution with all around tear-jerking and a suggestive bit at the end to allow gamers to draw their own conclusions about what may have happened.

Then they had to take a big dump on it with FFX-2. Yuna’s character has completely changed for the worse, Rikku somehow has even less clothing on, and the new character Paine (the only saving grace) gets swept into their teeheeing-obnoxious-girl power maelstrom by the end of the game. To top off the Japanese school girl stupidity, they added Sailor Moon-esque ‘dressphere’ changing sequences during battle. From the opening cutscene of the game featuring “Yuna” doing a cheesy dance to a J-Pop song, I could tell this game was varying from ALL of my expectations. Not to say I don’t like Sailor Moon or J-pop (I listen to Koda Kumi’s music a lot, ironically enough) they don’t belong in my Final Fantasy X. Instead of following a rational, “Let’s give Final Fantasy X fans something they’ll like,” train of thought, the developers seemed to go with more of a “Let’s combine a ton of pop culture crap and boobs and hope more people will buy it!”

And this game was met with critical and commercial success as well. I just don’t get it.

I guess the overall lesson here is not to judge a book (video game) by its cover. Or its title. Or its developers. Or what the critics say. Or what fellow gamers say. Instead, I really need to spend more time researching games and checking out Youtube videos to get a better idea of whether a game is worth my time and money or not. And even then, sometimes it is a shot in the dark. So what do you guys think? Did these titles disappoint you as much as they did me?