Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows DLC

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He’s just so… cute!

I’m back to sing Shovel Knight’s praises again! Except this time… it’s Plague Knight I’m rooting for?!

While Plague Knight didn’t especially stand out to me while playing Shovel Knight for the first time, I was immensely excited when I read about this free DLC for owners of the original game. In Plague of Shadows, the player assumes the role of Plague Knight, who is on a quest to become the most powerful alchemist out there. With the help of a few friends, of course.

I’m happy to report that we’re not talking about a mere palette swap here. I could tell a lot of time and care went into this DLC. Though it’s true that you will replay the same basic stages, they’ve been remodeled and subtle changes have been made to accompany Plague Knight’s style. And man, it is hella different. If you’ve played the normal campaign recently, it will take some getting used to.

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Just look at all these options!

Being an alchemist, Plague Knight relies on an assortment of potion bombs to blow up enemies. Don’t expect any signature shovel pogo sticking here. Instead, you’ll be double jumping, bursting, and tossing explosive vials. Bursting is an effect that will trigger when releasing the button. Plague Knight can glide, rain a blizzard on enemies below him, break through walls, and more. A common practice for gaining gravity is to double jump then burst, but you can do any combination of burst and jumping that you’d like. His bombs have THREE different features that you can upgrade and swap out whenever you want. It is very important to purchase these and experiment with them, as many effects are situational. Don’t learn the hard way (like me) that having a certain explosion or casing type can make or break a boss fight. Because they most certainly do.

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Treasure Trappings… Troupple King is my kinda Troupple.

Plague Knight utilizes magic as well. So on top of micromanaging your basic attack (which can get frustrating on certain stages… especially after the upteenth “Why do I keep dying here?!” death) you also have magic spells to consider. Some of the magic spells are wildly different than Shovel Knight’s, while others are different animations serving the same purpose. For example: While Shovel Knight gets the Dust Knuckles to soar across gaps, Plague Knight gets a dust cloud that he can walk through.

On top of the great new mechanics and creative equipment and abilities comes a fresh and thoroughly enjoyable story with delightful characters. Yacht Club Games did an impressive job of giving Plague Knight his own fresh story that runs parallel to what we saw the first time around. You’ll see some new faces, but more importantly, you’ll see a different side to characters you thought you knew. Most of the knights haven’t really changed; their ire is just temporarily directed towards Plague Knight. But damn, if it isn’t hilarious watching the pre-boss battle banter.

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Sound logic right there.

In short, the Plague of Shadows DLC is the perfect excuse to delve back into this game again. And this is coming from a person who almost never buys or downloads DLC. Typically when I am done with a game, I’m done. But for Shovel Knight fans, this is an opportunity you won’t want to miss. Plague Knight’s story is charming, fun, and hopefully a showcase of what other tricks Yacht Club Games has up their sleeves!

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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!

Retro Review: Megaman 6!

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Even the cover art is so much better than the previous entries!

Love retro games, but lack the time and patience to replay the same stages about 1,000 times over because a certain trick jump or jerk boss keeps getting the one-up on you? Well, I do. Lack the patience nowadays, that is. That’s why I’m in love with the Wii U’s Virtual Console games. They incorporate a Save State feature! For those of you who’ve never played an old-school game on an emulator before, a Save State basically allows you to save your progress at any point, so if things don’t go according to plan you can quickly load your last save and try again. While you only get one save state per game at a time, the system does remember your save state forever. I started playing Megaman 6 over the summer and recently picked it up again to find my save state right where I left it.

I didn’t mean for my retro review to open up with a Wii U Virtual Console plug, but there it is. I suppose that means this isn’t 100% retro, but whatever. It is very retro in that they didn’t incorporate the neat feature found in the Megaman Anniversary collection: using the L and R bumpers to swap abilities. As much as I love Megaman (And VI is my favorite) going back and forth into the menus to change abilities is freaking annoying. Especially in VI, because during the X and Wily stages it felt like I was constantly swapping to Rush Jet and Rush “Jacked” to traverse the levels or get extra goodies. It very well may be my only complaint about the game.

Like its predecessors, MM6 starts off with a relatively uninspiring introduction, complete with the “Baddie taking over the world with souped-up robots” schtick, and kicks you into the main menu screen. Here’s MM6’s Robot Master lineup:

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 I find it hard to believe there was no Bizzard, Flame or Wind man before the sixth entry.

You’ve got a few standard elemental types, then they get creative with fighter types from around the world. I’m not sure in today’s PC world if they’d get away with such stereotype-grounded enemies like Tomahawk Man and Flame Man (turban and all). Plus, if you ask me, Plant Man is pretty fabulous. He takes the Megaman bosses prancing around to a new level: with a shield of flowers. An ability I never really grew fond of, to be honest. Even more risque is Centaur Man, if you go by his story in the Megaman 6 manga. See, Centaur MAN is actually Centaur WOMAN. In love with Knight Man, or so I read online. I even saved a scanned image of the manga showing Centaur Man after Megaman broke “his” helmet, revealing long, blond locks and that feminine 90’s manga-style face. But as it turns out, the file type is Bitmap and isn’t accepted by WordPress, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. I knew there was a reason I liked Centaur Man so much, besides the fact that it’s a Centaur and I’m a Greek Mythology nut.

I absolutely love this Megaman entry. I find it underrated and overlooked, due to Megaman X (My other favorite Megaman) releasing around the same time on the SNES. Why play the sixth NES entry when you could play a shiny new entry on the SNES? Well, now that it’s 20 years later, all you retro gamers need to play this if you haven’t already!

The music and graphics are top-notch for a NES game. I have all the old school MM soundtracks on my ipod, and this one is still my favorite. Every stage has fitting and catchy tracks that somehow bring back fond memories instead of the irritating ones! The level designs are creative and fun (in a Megaman kind of way) and also feature hidden exits and pathways thanks to the Rush adaptors. The Rush adaptors that don’t consume energy but add fun variations to the level designs. And let you punch enemies across the screen. Just saying. The Robot Master weapons range from lackluster to a lot of fun. The Centaur Flash is pretty cool. The Knight Mace can actually be aimed in different directions. But then you have the Plant Man Shield thing that just feels… useless. And Flame Man’s fire shot would be cool if it continued along the floor like when he uses it. But noooo, when Megaman acquires it, it just plops in front of him and makes one pathetic pillar of fire. Oh well.

There’s a “Megamanniversary” sale going on at Nintendo EShop until tomorrow, I believe, so pick up this classic (along with all the others) at a discounted price! Then you can enjoy this retro classic and save state your way through it if you want to save yourself some headaches. If not, have at it the old fashioned way. I just don’t want to hear about how badly your carpal tunnel is when you finally beat the game.

Retro Review: Earthbound

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Check out this ragtag bunch of kids out to save the universe.

Earthbound is an old-school RPG that was first released on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, before I got into turn-based role playing games. Thus, I never experienced it during my impressionable youth. Over the years I heard a lot of buzz about this game that’s acquired a sizable cult following, so I added it to my “download and play sometime later” retro game list. A month or so ago, Club Nintendo notified me that I could download this game for FREE as a Platinum member. I did just that, propelling Earthbound from near the bottom of my to-play list to “Must Play Now” status.

I have very conflicting feelings about Earthbound. I think it is a very polarizing game; one that many people either really love or really hate. I’m still on the fence about it. It’s one of those games that is great when its great, and terrible when its terrible. To slog through certain parts of the game requires you to be especially patient and familiar with JRPG tropes of the past.

To start from the beginning; Earthbound is actually “Mother 2.” It’s also the only Mother game that was released in North America. Yes, whoever makes these decisions thought it’d be best to only translate and release the middle installment of a 3-part series. This sets a trend for the complete randomness that permeates a lot of Earthbound’s elements.

Before landing into the game world, the menus will ask a few important questions first. Your favorite food, favorite thing, and YOUR name (The game breaks the fourth wall in a crazy way that I won’t spoil). A little different than the standard “Name Your Character” stuff from games of yore. Then the story takes off. If you go by the default name, you play as Ness, awoken from slumber by some crazy happenings in the middle of the night. A meteorite crashes in your town. When you go investigate it, an insect named “Buzz Buzz” informs you of the greater “Save the world from ultimate evil” main plot. Yes, a bug. A time-traveling bug, actually. And this is just the start of the strange events that will unfold in Earthbound.

Ness, who has psychic abilities (because reasons) is, of course, some prophecy’s proclaimed savior who will rescue the world from Mr. Ultimate Evil Alien, Giygas. Psychic abilities serve as magic attacks in the game. The battle system in Earthbound functions much like old-school turn-based RPGs. Like DragonQuest, you don’t even get to see your characters on the screen. They’re only represented by boxes with their names, HP and PP (Psi Points). Which means attacks are just flashes of different colored lights and effects on the screen. The battle system is pretty standard fare. You choose attack, magic, defend, or item, take turns, and take almost-totally random amounts of damage from things. If you make the mistake of equipping yo-yos you’ll miss enemies so much you’ll probably bust your television screen. Yo-yos have this invisible “Worthless Item” stat. Well it’s more like an invisible “Miss” or “Accuracy” rating, but you get my drift.

Enemies will be able to one-shot a couple of your party members with a crit throughout the ENTIRE game. Not fun. Especially since healing items are hard to come by in the beginning and you don’t have enough inventory space to carry the items. The inventory management system in this game is so bad that I get the impression the developers went out of their way to make it painful. Each character can only hold a certain amount of items (a dozen, I think). Equipped items still count as part of their inventory. Like items do not stack. You have to cycle through each character’s menus to find what you’re looking for and give it to whoever you want to equip it; provided that character’s inventory isn’t already full. It doesn’t help that one of the characters, Jeff, is a packrat. His main use in battle is using items, so between his equipment and battle items he doesn’t have room for much else.

There’s two ways to circumvent the inventory nightmare. One is to call Escargo Express and PAY them to take only 3 items at a time away from you for safe keeping. By the end of the game we’d filled that extra inventory as well. Another way to whittle down your full inventory is to put out a For Sale sign. Then, no matter what godforsaken dungeon in the middle of nowhere you’re trudging your way through, an NPC will come running up and offer to purchase stuff from you. It’s all so pointless and frustrating. And weird.

The way this game handles money is pretty similar. Earthbound takes place in a modern day setting and incorporates ATMs and debit cards; another unnecessary inventory slot waster. Killing random enemies will cause Dad (who is nothing more than a disembodied voice you speak to on the telephone), to deposit an allowance, so to speak, in your account. This means you need to go to an ATM to access your money, which you’ll need for shopping, hotel and hospital stays. You don’t want to just KEEP the money on hand, because if you die you forfeit a good chunk of it. The penalty for dying is a bit weird in this game. The dead character’s ghost will follow you around on screen. If there’s no revive spell or items in your inventory, you need to trek all the way back to a hospital to revive them. For a fee, naturally. And sleeping doesn’t remedy status effects; you need to speak to certain “healers” to remove the particularly obnoxious ailments.

In it’s defense, I’m impressed by the unique and strange status ailments in this game. As much as I loathe some of them. There’s a ghost status effect, one that makes a mushroom grow on your head (!), and more realistic ones like sunstroke, homesickness, and having a cold.

Why trudge through Earthbound’s nightmarish inventory management and unforgiving old-school battle system, you ask? For Steve-O and I, probably the main reason we kept coming back for more torture was the out of whack humor. Take, for example, these hilarious NPC quotes:

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In case you didn’t know, Zombie PAPER is a thing. Like fly paper, I’d imagine.

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The stench  might also have something to do with the garbage can and rat you’re hanging out with.

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Um, what?

This quirky “I don’t know if I’m taking myself seriously or not” humor also bleeds into the battle system. Not so much the item names as the enemy names. Earthbound has the most colorful bestiary of any game I’ve ever played. Here’s a couple examples:

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New Age Retro Hippie… Doing the Pee-Pee dance.

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If you don’t get the allusion, I have no words for you.

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I can’t stop replacing “Fire” with “Butt” in my mind.

Other honorable mentions include:

  • Big Pile of Puke
  • Demonic Petunia
  • Even Slimier  Little Pile
  • Extra Cranky Lady
  • Farm Zombie
  • French Kiss of Death
  • Overzealous Cop

And the list goes on. A very creative venture, and one of my favorite aspects of the game. Something I never thought I’d say.

It’s hard to explain the essence of Earthbound in words. Despite its shortcomings and my frustrations with it, the unusual charm of the game is pervasive and felt in every nook and cranny. The graphics aren’t even impressive for a SNES game; it easily looks like it could’ve been on the Nintendo. The music isn’t catchy or particularly pleasant to listen to. It isn’t so much bad as it is atmospheric. Indeed, it is situational and makes sense… but it isn’t something you’ll want to listen to for pleasure. And like I said, for reasons I mentioned and haven’t mentioned, the game seems to go out of its way to annoy the player.

Aside from the silly and strange humor, Earthbound will call your name in indescribable ways. It has overarching themes that I can sense and feel, but can’t quite put my finger on. If I were more knowledgeable on the subject, I’d say it draws on 60’s drug culture, entwined with its own disturbing visions on both mortality and maternity. Also, the way characters speak so casually in some really messed-up situations was jarring to me.

Given the lack of character development, I can’t call it a coming of age story, which I bet is what you were expecting me to say, given the fact that the main characters are kids. Don’t come to Earthbound if you’re looking for a likable or relate-able cast. Ness is a typical silent main character, and the 3 friends you eventually recruit barely speak after their introductions. Earthbound has a female party member that incorporates both gender stereotype tropes but also makes giant leaps forward for its time (except compared to maybe Metroid). On one hand, Paula is a stereotypical soft-hearted girl who takes care of children in a day care and wields a frying pan for a weapon. On the other hand, if it weren’t for her, the entire adventure wouldn’t happen, and you wouldn’t be able to defeat the final boss. BUT on the other hand, she’s unsurprisingly the weakest party member, getting one-shotted every time an enemy looked at her funny.

The difficulty curve in this game is ridiculous. Paula was always weak, yes, with Jeff being the second weakest, but… man. To go toe-to-toe against enemies that always cast AoE magic attacks (as their first turn) that will make a joke out of at least half of your group ALL THE TIME.  And it wasn’t like we were under-leveled, exactly… Ness was 81, if I remember correctly. It’s unbelievable how frustrating the final zone is. I seriously don’t know how people survived to beat the game in the good old days. We cheated, so to speak, by taking advantage of the Wii U Virtual Console’s save state feature. Like playing on an emulator, it will make a temporary save for you whenever you want, and load it whenever you want. It’s how we survived Earthbound, truth be told. On top of how stupidly difficult the final dungeon is, it’s the only spot to farm Ness’ super-rare ultimate weapon. One in a series of 1/128 item drops throughout the game. No thank you, is all I have to say to that.

The reward for trudging through the hell that is the final dungeon without throwing your game system out the window is the final boss fight. The Giygas boss fight is… memorable, to say the least. It’s unique. Different. Something that sticks with you long after finishing the game. Curious, I went online and did some reading. Needless to say, my eyes were opened to a few interesting tidbits. It’s truly a shame at least the first game wasn’t released in North America, because having the background information on Giygas from Mother 1 really would’ve helped me appreciate Earthbound’s main villain.

If you missed the game back in the SNES days when we had more patience for game difficulty and were more forgiving of bad game play mechanics, it’s hard to say if Earthbound will have a lasting, profound effect, or if you’ll ditch it after the first couple of hours. I can’t say I could blame anyone for quitting anymore than I’d high five someone for sticking it through. Earthbound has been around long enough that there are several reliable walkthroughs available to reference and save you a lot of time and frustrations; making it at least worth a shot in my book. Despite Earthbound’s grave flaws, in the end I’m glad we stuck it out to experience this sleeper hit.

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.

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons

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Well, it’s not ONLY on Gameboy Color anymore…

Remember that post I wrote a month or so ago about my frustrating forgetting to save “oops moment?” Well, it was in regards to this game, and I finally went back to it after reading a novel in the interim. I faced my stupid mistake, sucked up my pride, and re-did the dungeon/dungeon and a half that I evidently forgot to save after. I was mostly annoyed with myself for not only forgetting to save, but also for forgetting to abuse the awesome virtual console features on the 3DS. The 3DS has the ability to create a save state on the retro game you’re currently playing, which totally reminds me of playing NES and SNES games on a computer emulator. Nostalgia feels.

This whole game was one big nostalgia feels session for me. My favorite GameBoy game ever is Link’s Awakening. And Oracle of Seasons is stupidly reminiscent of it. I haven’t played its partner game, Oracle of Ages yet, but I suspect its quite similar. The map, menus, and music are all too familiar. Especially the recycled music. Normally I’d complain about recycled music, but I like it so much I don’t even care. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, I tell you.

Oracle of Seasons is named thus because, well, the oracle of seasons has been kidnapped and needs to be rescued. Din the oracle is the damsel of distress du jour that Link has the pleasure of rescuing from Dark Lord Onox. Why? Well, because.

Anyone who has played a LoZ game knows primarily what to expect; 8 dungeons, a world map that is a PITA to explore, and pointless nods to Hyrule and Princess Zelda. Yes, there is a super-hot princess in a faraway kingdom. I get it. But that’s neither here nor there. How about the NPCs spend their one to two lines of dialogue telling me how to get to the next dungeon instead?

Oracle of Seasons is puzzle-heavy, making exploring the world map more of a chore than it really needs to be. On top of using power bracelets, Roc feather and cape, and a metallic glove (basically this game’s Hookshot replacement) to traverse obstacles, Link also acquires a “Rod of Seasons.” This special rod can change the season which alters how Link can interact with the landscape. The Rod of Seasons only works when Link is standing on a special stump. I still can’t wrap my head around why that is, but whatever. So you’ll wander around the map, looking for a stump to change the season to whichever new one you unlocked, without really knowing what you’re looking for. It’s kind of hard to know where the ice will appear or where the snowbanks Link can walk across will show up until after you change the season. Expect to do a lot of semi-pointless wandering around unless you don’t have time for that crap like me and use a FAQ.

A big tree that can’t see to stay awake is always asking Link to save the Essences of Nature between yawns. There are 8 of them (imagine that) and collecting all of them unlocks the final dungeon. As you can probably tell, I’m not too enthused about the “story” (This is Legend of Zelda, after all) nor do I remember much of it after only beating the game last week. Basically after defeating the Dark Lord there is a teaser to the companion game, Oracle of Ages. Then there’s a special code to input when you load up the new game. And vice versa if you start with Oracle of Ages then play Seasons second.

Retro Gameboy games only hold up against the test of time so well. The 3DS save state feature (that I am an idiot and kept forgetting to use) helps immensely. However, aside from adding more buttons to map items to, nothing can be done about the annoying amount of times I had to go into my sub menu to change my equipment. During more than one boss fight I found myself relying on 3 different weapons and tools which required so-many-pauses. THEN, on top of that, if you’re using a slingshot or a seed from the satchel, you then have to select which of the four options you want. And this will happen for more than one boss fight. It’s like, “So… wait… I need to use my sword, and my fire seeds, and my Roc cape, and Pegasus seeds? HOW?!” You get the idea. Not being new to old Zelda games, I expected it, and I’m sure you will too, but it doesn’t make it any less annoying.

Another feature different from Link’s Awakening is the incorporation of pretty jewelry for Link to wear. Just rings, unfortunately. Every ring Link finds has to be taken back to Vasu the jeweler to be appraised. Only then can you find out what useful or useless feature it has. Thank the gaming gods Gale Seeds allow for fast travel in this game or I probably would’ve been walking around with a couple dozen unappraised rings for half the game. Once Vasu tells you what the ring does, you pick from your ring inventory which ones you want to carry around (up to three) and even then you can only equip one at a time. There’s a ring that grants times two sword damage with no repercussions, which makes it hard to care what the other rings do. But a certain ring that takes care of electric damage proves useful during the final encounter.

Not only is there the main world map that’s a bitch, er, puzzle, to explore, this game also has an underworld called Subrosia. I liked this area. It was full of cute, charming creatures who either helped Link along his quest or created mischief. This underworld correlates well to the corresponding map above ground. Navigating in Subrosia was relaxing because there wasn’t really any season crap to worry about. Subrosia mostly has mini games and cutesy chase sequences that are a fun break.

Pretty much everything else is what you’d come to expect from an old Zelda game, recycled music and enemies included! The usual frustrations aside, I couldn’t help but enjoy my time with this brainteaser action-adventure game. If this happens to be a Gameboy Legend of Zelda title you haven’t played, download it for cheap and do it! Me? I can’t decide if I want to download Oracle of Ages or play Link Between Worlds.

Kirby’s Dream Collection

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So… many… Kirbies…

Those “Buy 2 Get 1 Free” used game sales at Gamestop I was referring to a few posts back when I made my “Gaming To-Do” list? Yeah… the sale happened. And it got me good. One of the games I purchased was Kirby’s Dream Collection. Kirby’s Adventure is probably my fondest NES gaming memory. Kirby’s Dreamland 2 also holds a special place in my heart. I played that a lot when I was young using my Super GameBoy. AND this used copy even included the soundtrack! Thank you kind fool who parted with this collection, I am forever grateful.

In case you were wondering, these are the playable games included in the Dream (AKA-20th Anniversary) Collection:

  • Kirby’s Dream Land
  • Kirby’s Adventure Kirby’s Dream Land 2
  • Kirby Super Star
  • Kirby’s Dream Land 3
  • Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards

I was genuinely happy with this list… Until I went to the Kirby History portion of the disc and checked out the timeline. There were all sorts of OTHER Kirby games I didn’t even know about! Whoever put this collection together was basically like, “Hey, check out all these extra Kirby games that we didn’t bother to include in the ‘Dream’ collection, sucker! But you can watch a two minute video of the gameplay to whet your appetite for a game you’ll never get to play!” Seriously, why would you go out of the way to point out your own laziness/skimpiness? Granted, some of the puzzle ones looked kinda blah, but dammit, if I buy a collection I want them all! (I’m looking at you, Silent Hill HD Collection. Can you even call two games a “collection?”)

Something else I learned while reviewing the Kirby timeline was that a Kirby cartoon exists! I couldn’t take more than five minutes of the first episode before I had to turn it off, but it exists! And if I’d known about it when I was 8 I probably would’ve watched the entire series and have the nostalgia-stomach for it now. Oh, missed opportunities.

I haven’t played Kirby’s Adventure on the Wii disc yet. I feel like I’ve played this game 100 times; most recently the 3D version on my 3DS. But when I am jonesing for it again I’ll check out this version.

The first game I played in the above list was Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards. I never owned a N64 and toyed around with the idea of downloading it on my Wii but never did so I missed out on this game until now. My experience with N64 games is limited, but I think this is the only N64 platformer I’ve ever played, as they were obsessed with the new 3D technology when the system came out. I pretty much coasted through the game until I got to the final boss. The normal final boss was a huge difficulty curve for me, not even considering the extra final boss.Those 20+ lives I had stockpiled (which reset when you reload your save file, FML) got put to use real quick. Before you ask, no, I did not, nor do I have any plans to, collect all the crystal shards so I can get my ass handed to me by an unlockable boss. PS4 is coming out in November, people… Ain’t nobody got time for that!

Then I played Kirby’s Dreamland. It’s like a micro-version of Kirby’s Adventure, which was released later. Super old-school GameBoy, I loved it. I was shocked and amazed when I finished this game in one sitting. That hasn’t happened to me in a very, very long time. Actually… it hasn’t happened since I downloaded and played Kirby’s Dreamland 3 on my Wii for the first time. This time around, I didn’t beat KD3 in one sitting. Oh well. I’m not particularly crazy about the addition of animal friends for Kirby to ride around in/on. Aside from the gimmicky parts when you need them, I refuse to use them.

Kirby Super Star is a fun collection of games as well. While starting it up I had a sneaky suspicion I’d already played it before. About ten minutes later I realized that was because I DID already play the DS remake/re-release/whatever. So I replayed Meta Knight’s Revenge and a couple of other modes because they’re a lot of fun.

This collection also has “Challenge Modes” that are suspiciously similar to those found in Kirby’s Return to Dreamland… They’re cute and fun for a little while, but nothing to get worked up about.

Basically, the dream collection doesn’t have any new exclusive content to be excited about. It preserves the Kirby classics we love and cherish (though Kirby’s Adventure will always trump these other installments for me) and, like I said, goes out of its way to show you all the other games they didn’t bother including in the collection. I will say, after playing the 3 Dream Land games and the Crystal Shards game, Kirby moves really… cumbersomely. I hate having to tap a directional button twice to dash. Kirby is slow. Slow, slow, slow. That was hard to get used to again. And going from one game to another I couldn’t remember whether I was supposed to tap up or the jump button again to get Kirby to float.

I also couldn’t find a button to leave a game and return to the main menu. I have to be blind or something. It must exist… I mean, did they really intend for the player to have to reset their system whenever they wanted to play a different game?

If you like retro platformers and/or some of the Kirby relics, this collection is good to have. But I have to admit, after playing Epic Yarn and Kirby’s Return to Dreamland, some of these were hard to go back to.