Save Point

Money can buy everything except “love”, “friendship” and “exp points”.

Stuck Behind July 28, 2008

Filed under: Specific games — haounomiko @ 3:48 pm
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Several days ago, Sasarai and I tried out the Left Behind game. Yes, this is a game based on the poorly-written Christian rapture novel series.

The intro was a cheesy film about the situation of the books, where a lot of people have been raptured up to heaven and no one who is “left behind” really knows for sure what is going on. Apparently even turning to the Christian God for guidance doesn’t necessarily help, because the intro and the game alike are filled with people who have decided post-rapture to become evangelical Christians and are nonetheless still hanging around in post-apocalyptic Earth. The company’s introduction included a re-creation of Michaelangelo’s famous painting “The Creation of Adam” in moderately bad 3-D graphics. I am not normally one to criticise a game just because its graphics aren’t state-of-the-art, but I do think it would have been better if they’d used a picture of the actual painting instead of a 3-D recreation; it didn’t look as nice and they weren’t impressing anyone with their rendering skill.

The premise of the game is that your characters are newly-born-again Christians trying to recruit others to their faith, in a world filled with neutral uninvolved people and evil Satanic rock musicians. You have to recruit others to your cause and train them to help you build your own city, while dodging evil music flung at you by Satan’s minions and trying not to get them stuck behind each other in little groups. The gameplay and interface are somewhat reminiscent of Civilizations, and during the tutorial, I found myself getting somewhat addicted to auto-evangelizing new friends so I could send them off to build more housing (because new recruits have to live in Christian housing, even if you don’t have room for them). Frustratingly, I kept recruiting “Friend Woman” units instead of the male “Friend” units, and the former are only able to do two jobs, neither of which were particularly useful to me; male units, on the other hand, could take any job, and thus were far more useful. My collection of “Friend Woman” nurses in little white dresses couldn’t do anything but stand around outside of the hospital, and I longed to be able to send them off to join the construction workers. So much for encouraging respect for women. Nonetheless, I had my hands full with recruiting and building, and I managed to make interesting progress despite the game’s handicapping the abilities of half my population. I had plenty of busy little deviantly-male bees anyway.

Unfortunately, once the tutorial ended and I started story mode, the gameplay took a nosedive. To survive the first mission, I had to stand in one place and repeatedly wait for the “Pray” command to raise my stats before I was able to safely walk down the street. Beginning a game with the task of “stand here and click this icon every thirty seconds” is not exactly a great hook to get players interested. It improved a little after that, but it seemed like it was going to be at least a handful of missions before I got to do any of the more fun city-building tasks; for the moment it was all about walking down the street without getting hit by evil music. Thumbs down for the slow-to-start-up design. I presume that later on I’ll get to build my base up more and create armies, although I’m going to try not to use the military units because attacking the enemy seems so un-Christian and not in keeping with the premise of the game. At present I’m just trying to figure out how to shake the evil musicians off my tail if they manage to start pursuing me when I only have a handful of civilians to begin with.

Overall I’d say that the gameplay is sort of mediocre, though I can see how it could become addictive later on. But I personally would rather play Civilizations, where the goal is to increase science and development instead of decreasing it via gospel music. Call me a heathen, but I like having the technology to do things like, say, play games.

 

Brick Breaking for Brokers

Filed under: Metagaming,Specific games — haounomiko @ 2:24 am
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Some friends and I have been playing old Super Nintendo ROMs, somewhat at random. We found a version of Arkanoid called Doh It Again, which is aptly-named given how often one ends up saying “d’oh” while playing it. Perhaps the most notable part, however, is that the fanfare music introducing each attempt at a level is strongly reminiscent of a song from Final Fantasy VI, so much so that I often couldn’t stop laughing every time the level restarted. We joked that they wanted to use FFVI’s music but had to pay royalties by the second and could only afford one bar of it.

Really, there’s not much else to say about Arkanoid. I can, however, attest to having seen some amusing gaming shirts in the past few days, including a “Made in the 80s” Mario shirt and a field guide to the various fungi of the Mushroom Kingdom.

 

Treasure Troves July 20, 2008

Filed under: Metagaming,The gaming industry — haounomiko @ 1:13 am

My copy of Final Fantasy III for the DS had been missing for an entire year, so last night I finally broke down and bought a new one. Guess what I found today.

At least I bought some other interesting things that I didn’t already own copies of– I have been on quite the game-acquiring spree lately. For some reason, a lot of PS2 titles and a relative lot of Gamecube titles have been showing up used lately; perhaps this is a big year for people to sell their consoles. The proliferation of good DS titles has contributed to my acquisition as well. Suddenly, there’s a lot that I want. It’s been a good year, but at the same time I’m not feeling any more positive about the gaming industry than I have since the Wii era began; good games are released not in a steady flood but in fits and starts. I might as well pick up what I want while I can, to tide me over through darker times.

Perhaps the most unusual find was actually purchased not by me but by a friend; I spotted a box set of Ar tonelico, which is going for around $70 on eBay, being sold for $40. For my part, I was amused by the font on the side of the box; it was reminiscent of old Atari games. Imagine a game whose plot revolves around music, with a soundtrack of Atari 2600 chiptunes and a harem of girls with 25-pixel faces.

 

A Bland Lunch Arranged In A Beautiful Bento Box July 14, 2008

Filed under: Retro games,Specific games — haounomiko @ 5:21 pm
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I’m still too early in to judge the plot of Tales of Phantasia (and we’re putting it on hiatus for a while, though we do intend to continue eventually), but I’ve formed a pretty solid opinion on everything else: namely, that everything other than the plot is great. Even the high encounter rate is compensated for by the quickness of battle– often finished by a companion’s spell before you have time to locate your enemies, though in longer battles you are actively engaged with the system– and the fast loading time, for which my standards have been lowered in this day and age of wanting to show off graphics. The game is quite lovely, atmospheric, and fun to wander around in; the battle system is interesting; the dungeons are home to little cave-dwelling creatures as special effects rather than enemies; your heroes actually eat to regain their strength; even the economy makes a little more sense than in most RPGs.

As for the plot, it’s really hard to overlook its dullness; it revolves around a lad with an overdeveloped sense of vengeance and his cliche-ridden quest to deal with his vendetta, while incidentally saving the world if that happens to occur on the way. My inner storyteller squirms. But the rest of the game is worth appreciating.

 

I’ll Tell You About Your Special Pendant When You Get Back July 10, 2008

Filed under: Retro games,Specific games — haounomiko @ 7:52 am
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More retro goodness: I’ve been playing Tales of Phantasia for the first time on a Super Nintendo emulator. I’m impressed by the soundtrack (full-length vocal songs in a SNES game, really?) and the beauty of the low-saturation, high-intricacy sprite-based graphics. It’s a beautiful game, and a lush, evocative world to explore, which wins a lot of points from me.

I am bemused by the battle system. One look at the battle screen makes it appear to be a Final Fantasy clone, and that’s more or less what I expected, but it’s nothing of the kind; it has reflex-based battles with 1-D movement projected onto a 2-D screen with an impressively well-done illusion of a 3-D background. It’s different from the same old thing, but the battles are easy. At least they go by quickly, which is a good thing because the encounter rate is extremely high. If the battles weren’t so short, I think I would forget which way I was walking several times on my way through each room– the constant interruptions are awfully distracting. I’m tempted to use the holy potions of monster avoidance, but my characters are levelling up at a steady pace, and I don’t want to end up walking around in circles to level up for a boss later on.

As for the plot, naturally I can’t comment with any accuracy until I finish the game, but so far it has been so stereotypical it’s actually almost funny. It needs imaginative elaboration by the player to be at all memorable; every plot point is so predictable it feels like it came from putting other SNES RPGs in a blender. The translation, a fan work by DeJap, is full of anachronisms and the occasional immature joke, which, far from helping me relate to the game, feels wrong for the Renaissance-era European fantasy setting and distances me from the idea that these characters are real people. I don’t have a sense that a classic is being desecrated by it, however; the story is sufficiently banal that I don’t think I’m missing much.

It’s hard to say at this point whether I’ll stick it through and finish the game; it’s got a combination of very good aspects and very bad ones. I had assumed it must have done well to blossom into a huge series, but perhaps the graphics are its strongest point; and while they are impressive for their time and do create a lovely atmosphere, I’m not sure whether that’s enough to carry the game to its finish for me.

 

The Legend Goes Ever On July 7, 2008

Filed under: Retro games,Specific games — haounomiko @ 8:33 pm

Please forgive the recent lack of updates. Major events in my offline life have taken precedence, but I hope to get back into my regular groove now.

Justin and I have been playing through Super Demo World– or rather, I’ve been playing while Justin looked on and made fun of me for falling into pits and getting chomped by piranha plants. Super Demo World: The Legend Continues is a hack of Super Mario World that incorporates many elements from Super Mario Bros. 3, and feels a bit like an extension of both. Although it’s “just” a fan hack, it’s a complete game by itself, and every bit as engrossing as the original SMW.

We haven’t quite gotten 100% yet, though we are close; this game is tricky. It was supposed to be “an example of what [the hacking tool] Lunar Magic can do”, but in fact it’s also an example of what SMW’s own game rules could do, and didn’t. The structure of SMW, the available possibilities, the items and techniques, weren’t fully explored even in as many levels as the game had, and SDW takes it to the next level by exploring a large handful of those– feats we might have been asked to pull off in SMW, but weren’t. Add to this various nostalgic homages to SMB3 and a trick or two from SMB1, as well as a scattering of new items to keep things fresh, and you get the feel of a game designed by people who loved the original games inside and out, and knew what made them great.

Of course, the game doesn’t take itself so seriously that it’s above humour. The original plot, rescuing the unhatched baby Yoshi eggs from Bowser’s evil clutches, has turned into a mildly disturbing quest for breakfast omelettes. And the ending– well, you’ll have to see that for yourself. It’s not worth more than a suggestion of parental guidance, but seeing my childhood skewered was not my favourite part of the game. I doubt anyone would find it upsetting, at least no more than a peeing Calvin sticker on the back of someone’s SUV; it’s simply aimed towards a dark sense of humour that I unfortunately do not share, but which may amuse many players; so, let that be your guideline for suitability.

I would highly recommend this game to anyone who grew up on SMB3 or SMW; it strikes just the right balance between challenging enough for an experienced player, and easy enough to be reasonably completed. The developers clearly wanted people to find the secrets; they just didn’t want to make it too easy. “Oh no, they didn’t!” sums up my reaction to the skills required, an expression of combined appreciation, enthusiasm, and gaping dismay; but I was never really stuck beyond my ability to proceed. And, after all, the developers knew when they designed it that gamers might make use of save states, so I consider them fair game. In the end, I’m simply glad for the chance to further explore the horizon of possibilities.

[Edit: We’ve now completed all 120 exits. It was satisfying.]