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

Bad Order Of Operations August 25, 2009

Filed under: Specific games — haounomiko @ 2:05 am
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Mana Khemia 2 is supposed to be released here on Wednesday, and I have my pre-order filed; it’s particularly timely for me because I completed the first Mana Khemia only two weeks ago. The more I think about that game, the more I suspect that– unless I’ve missed something huge– the game was released without being fully completed (perhaps due to a looming deadline?)

Mild spoilers follow, but I’m going to be vague. Those who want to avoid spoilers regarding thematic and/or oblique references to late-game plot are advised not to read further. Due to the nature of the post, comments may contain more severe spoilers; read at your own risk.

I believe that the game may have been conceived to have multiple endings, and that the studio only completed the less complicated “bad ending”, possibly due to a time crunch. My first thought on this was simply that the ending felt rushed and unsophisticated, and admittedly I did not like the protagonist’s choice nor the game’s portrayal of it as a satisfactory conclusion. I find its easy dismissal unrealistic, a quick shortcut to a happy ending. Moreover, though, there were several story elements that seem unresolved.

The biggest thing missing is that Isolde’s revelation about the history of alchemy seems too large for its plot role– disclosure of a shocking and highly forbidden secret that changes the entire face of alchemist-Mana relations, a tremendously complex element used simply in order to provoke Vayne. I understand that the studio is given to complex background world-building, but they are not given to throwing in enormously weighty pieces of information to play trivial roles. And what of the boss in that scene? I find it strange that the game never returned to any of this, and I imagine that if Vayne had not made the choice he did in the ending, there would be plenty of reason to return to it.

There are small things too: the ending itself seemed too simple and too soon after the revelation, and the final choice– though treated as the ideal fix for everything– felt like a snap decision made without a good night’s sleep on the matter. Several of the party members seemed to know the urgency of rushing through the final dungeon, despite not having any clues that they should be in any hurry (unless, I suppose, they were concerned with getting home in time to study for final exams); it felt uncharacteristically forced. Zeppel’s reaction to the campus-wide rumour about Vayne, after his three years of support, was surprising and disappointing as well as thin, but remained unaddressed. There is an extra week on the schedule between the final boss and graduation, which violates everything that has been established about pacing in the game. And God’s Scar has suspiciously epic, unique, final-dungeon-esque music for an unusually simplistic map that is never officially used, in contrast with the real final dungeon, which has an insufficiently epic feel in music as well as in everything else.

An ending that tied up all of the story’s emotional threads would have required more setup and elaboration, and it may be that the studio only had time to finish a quicker, lesser ending. But I wince at the way everyone treats Vayne’s choice as the perfect solution to the problem; as I see it, the choice that was made raises a good many new problems, it pretends there will be no side-effects for Vayne, and it fails to solve the problem that caused the story’s core conflict to begin with when a perfect solution was available at no cost and was even suggested by one of the characters. None of this makes me particularly happy, although I am proud of the characters for graduating in the midst of such personal turmoil.

For what it’s worth, I do think that the game’s primary revelation was handled extremely well; like a good murder mystery, all the evidence is present, but the player is led astray from a truth that is in plain sight. Admittedly, I am very fond of cats. (Judging from the detail and realism in Sulpher’s many animations, I suspect someone on the development team is too.)

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Good Idea, Bad Execution August 23, 2009

Filed under: Specific games — haounomiko @ 5:51 am
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I know it’s been ages since I’ve posted in this blog, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still have things to say about video games. So I’m going to defy the irrational little voice in my head saying, “No! It’s been too long, so you shouldn’t post in here!” and do it anyway.

I’ve been playing Steal Princess, which is cute until the gameplay starts. It’s a puzzle game with a fun premise and a promising beginning, as well as an anime intro that visually resembles the love child of Cowboy Bebop’s and Utena’s but has bland music. Unfortunately, after coasting along for a bit, the fun stopped on a dime.

The game is about a female thief who has to become a hero and rescue a kidnapped prince, which is refreshing; and although the title makes no sense in context, I can imagine wanting to use “princess” instead of “prince” to attract little girls who might enjoy a game with a glamorous female protagonist. It’s silly and fourth-wall-breaky, and that was fun at first– but once I got into the puzzle levels, the incessant banter of the characters started to drive me nuts. It interrupted my gameplay for many dialogue boxes of predictable, repetitious wisecracks that are meant to lighten up exposition about the game controls but don’t actually explain them very well. The same joke is only funny so many times. Still, I could have put up with that if the gameplay had been good– which it was, but only for a little while.

It was fun for the first few levels, and then it abruptly became not fun for the sole reason that the controls are awful. If I used the buttons I couldn’t choose where to retarget my whip, and if I used the stylus it didn’t always register my tap even when I think I hit the target dead-on (which is why I hate stylus-based reflex challenges to begin with). My stylus tap wouldn’t register half the time, and then I’d fall into the water and have to start the level over again. To begin with, I’m not thrilled with puzzle games being so dependent on reflex tasks– but when the controls aren’t registering input on a time-sensitive task, that just instantly kills the fun.

Well, that was that. Steal Princess: how to convince little girls that games aren’t fun and they’re no good at them.