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

The 108 Calvinists of Destiny March 24, 2009

Filed under: New releases,Retro games,Specific games — haounomiko @ 11:03 pm
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I’ve spent most of my gaming time in Second Life recently, so I haven’t had much to blog about, but I did try the SNES game Castlevania IV for the first time. Are this game and Super Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts completely ripped off from each other? I’m not sure how two games that seem to have come out at approximately the same time can be so similar. Granted, I don’t know how much of this was set up by their respective precursors, as these are the earliest ones of their type I’ve played– but little things like the level advancement screen and even the rotating level are, no pun intended, eerily alike.

I also picked up Suikoden Tierkreis for the DS last week. So far, I’ve been unhappy with the clumsy way that it’s handled predestination; I expected better out of a Suikoden game. The game seems to want to blame every social ill upon the ruling society’s abstract philosophy instead of the corrupt rulers themselves, and that strikes me as being unlikely as well as out of line with the rest of the series. I don’t like the idea of fate any more than the next person, but historical societies that have believed in predestination were aware that it doesn’t work like that. Even if it turns out that the young naive heroes were all wrong, it’s still a strawman.

Well, we’ll see how it goes– hopefully it’ll improve. I do have high standards for the series that cause me to complain whenever it drops the ball, but in fact, the game is fun so far.

Last but not least, a friend and I are slugging through Donkey Kong Country 2 (SNES) bit by bit. Giant hives of bees, oh my.


Flashback: The Quest For Believable Physics December 1, 2008

Filed under: Genres,Retro games,Specific games — haounomiko @ 4:20 pm
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I finished Flashback: The Quest For Identity, and I have to say it’s actually quite good. The game mechanics– the graphics and scale, and the motions and puzzles– reminded me a bit of Prince of Persia for the SNES, and that makes me very happy. I loved Prince of Persia, and when they came out with the modern sequels, I was so excited– until I discovered that it involved a lot more fighting, and the series has only gone further in that direction since then. I enjoyed the original for the puzzles, and the focus on fighting made it seem rather mundane and rehashed, rather than the unique thing it was. However, I digress.

Flashback seemed, from the credits, to be mostly the brainchild of the director, who had input in many different areas of the game, and my guess is that said director was a big fan of 80’s sci-fi movies in a certain vein. Visually as well as plotwise and thematically, the game seemed like a mashup of some familiar films. Which was a good thing in my estimation, since I think that kind of sci-fi was quite creative. The one thing that didn’t quite match the image was that some parts of the game were actually prettier and less pessimistic than the stories it was probably lifted from, and honestly I liked that too, since the gritty cynical depressiveness of those stories is the only thing I don’t like about them. In sum, the Flashback world and atmosphere was nice for me; however, I can see other players objecting to the fact that the game is neither this classic tone nor that one, so my praise here should be taken as conditional based on one’s own preferences.

I won’t explain the ending in great detail so as not to spoil it, but I was left thinking it was a little awkward in plausibility– the protagonist is in big trouble unless he has a much better idea of how to pilot and program an alien spacecraft than of how to read their star charts, which seems a little unlikely. Still, it was bittersweet, exciting, and not bad at all.

There is one giant hole in the plot that I can’t quite fill, and that is the Bad Sci-Fi Physics. We are told that the aliens disguise themselves as humans, and the way to tell who they are is that the aliens’ molecular density is a thousand times ours. Therefore, they weigh a thousand times as much for their size. If they were actually a thousand times as heavy as humans, they would crash through the floors of all the elevators, subways, and even second floors of the human buildings, which doesn’t support the premise that their disguise works. Therefore they must be very small– probably no more than 1/2500th the size of a human, unless the architects of the future are designing lifts to a much higher specification than presently– with their disguise being mostly a hologram constructed around them. In this case, why are all the buildings in their homeworld, their spacecraft, and so on constructed for creatures that are roughly human-sized? Inquiring minds want to know.


Retrofest Continues November 25, 2008

Filed under: Retro games,Specific games — haounomiko @ 3:28 pm
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I finally finished Drakkhen, and I must admit I’m a bit relieved, though also proud of myself for sticking with it until the end this time. I feel accomplished. The best part of the game was being amused by the incoherent text, which actually was pretty good entertainment. The music wasn’t bad, and there were times when I thought the game could have been poignant if the designers had put a little more work into drawing players in, making it personal, and making us care about the world. I wonder if Drakkhen II/Dragon View is any good.

I also finished Super Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts properly. It’s worth a mention that this game seems to have been made by sexist developers. There’s a status ailment that turns your character into a girl, rendering him almost helpless– much in the vein of Bunny Link from Zelda 3, but misogynistic. The princess is also even more objectified than usual; beating the game gets you her measurements; and this in an age when there were plenty of female video game characters out there who could do as much as the male ones, like Samus and SMB2’s Princess Toadstool. I’m put in mind of all the media hype of game companies trying to make games for girls– those games usually suck, and any serious female gamer is more likely actually playing “boys’ games”, but developers seem to overlook this fact. Instead of assuming girls want to play a special different kind of game designed just for them, perhaps developers could try assuming that girls are playing the default games as well as boys, and not put in sexist things. I bet that would go further to address the gender imbalance in gaming than any amount of pink consoles or Barbie’s Little Mermaid Horse Race Babiez games. I know quite a few female gamers, and they all choose their games by whether they’re fun, not by whether the box is pink.

Am now playing Flashback: The Quest For Identity. I remember getting this game pretty late in the SNES era, when I already had a PSX and everything, and I think I wandered off to play something else as soon as I got stuck, which was within the first ten minutes. I think my attention span for video games was at an all-time low in that era; with Sony on the map, suddenly there were many more games available than I could ever keep up with, I could afford to buy more of them, and I couldn’t play them as fast as they were accumulating on my shelf. I wasn’t used to budgeting my time with only the games I really liked, and I was a bit overwhelmed.

Holiday weekend coming up. Anyone playing anything big over the weekend? (Or am I the only one who schedules the perfect time to immerse myself in certain games weeks in advance?)


I Left My Magical Item In Playthrough Two November 20, 2008

Filed under: Retro games,Specific games — haounomiko @ 1:04 pm
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I’ve continued my run of playing through old SNES games as ROMs, because it’s nice to revisit nostalgia for both the individual games and the feel of the whole system, and also because I feel a sense of accomplishment finishing something that I never previously stuck with. I am using save states and walkthroughs, so it’s no great accomplishment of skill, but I like to feel that I’ve explored the whole game and not left it hanging halfway through. To me, that’s more important than proving my skill, at least for most games. The theme of today’s post, however, is endings that are far inferior to the rest of the game.

So I finally finished Jurassic Park, which I’d previously mostly rented but had nostalgia for. It’s comprised of two distinct parts: indoors, where the camera is 3-D, and outdoors, where it’s top down. The indoor part is rather easy since you can take out most threats before they react to you, and healing items and ammo respawn whereas enemies don’t. So the only part that’s physically difficult, reflex-wise, about the game is the outdoor segments, where you are at a huge disadvantage because the dinos all move faster than you do and many of the most deadly ones run out of hiding when you get close.

The reason why this game can take a long time to complete if you don’t know it well is the complexity of the maps. It’s the sort of game where you can easily get lost, especially indoors, but there is no map– you have to map it yourself, or hold it all in your head. I’m pretty good at these things if I take them out methodically, but I did get lost a few times; I didn’t use the walkthroughs for maps, but rather just to tell me where to go next. I did feel accomplished when I eventually finished the game– no thanks to the ending, which consisted of a bad zoom out of a map that’s more poorly-rendered than anything else in the whole game, and a message saying, “Congratulations you have escaped Jurassic Park.” Woo hoo.

After that– because I only want to devote so much time per day slugging through Drakkhen– I started up Super Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts. I had thought I’d never played it on the pak, even though I had it, because I couldn’t remember it at all; but once I started playing I realised I had most definitely played it a little. There were things I don’t remember and think I probably would have recalled had I seen them, but I also do distinctly remember some other things. Perhaps some of them are similar to other games?

At any rate, I know I didn’t complete it. I would have remembered THAT ending, such as it were– the ending where the princess says that to beat the final boss you need to replay the entire game. At a higher difficulty level. What? Okay, it’s a short game, and the first time through it isn’t terribly hard, but talk about a cheap trick. She seems to have dropped her magical bracelet in hundreds of places throughout the second playthrough of the game, not just in level 1; couldn’t we just backtrack a little to get it? Sigh.


Rusty, Dusty Swords November 10, 2008

Filed under: Retro games,Specific games — haounomiko @ 8:08 pm
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I’ve been home sick, so I loaded up some old ROMs of SNES games that I hadn’t played since childhood.

Dragon’s Lair is a game I once rented and couldn’t remember the title of; I knew it was something that sounded generic, but that didn’t help me. I had really thought the title had “hero” or “knight” or something in it, because it was far more about the knight than it ever was about the dragon, whom I never got far enough in the game to see. In retrospect, it isn’t quite as fun as I’d thought it was, but it isn’t terrible either. The fact that the hero is a comically dorky knight with a grating high-pitched scream was lost on me when I was young, along with the bizarre fact that on the overworld map he is basically a head on a walking pair of shoulders; I did not remember these things standing out in my mind, oddly enough.

I hear that the NES version is terrible, but the SNES version seems to have fixed many of the flaws, so it is just moderately okay. I think that my prior attachment to and interest in this game must have been based largely on the fact that it was a somewhat fun platformer that had a medieval theme. And also that it existed, because as a kid in the SNES days, that was often enough.

Drakkhen is a game for which that wasn’t enough. I remember buying it only to be very disappointed that it wasn’t the type of JRPG I was used to; we took it back to the store the next day and exchanged it for something else. It’s actually slightly better than I remember, though; in my memory all I did was wander around lost and drown a whole bunch of times, but it’s not quite that bad; it just requires patience and frequent checking of the map/compass. There is a dull sort of disconnect between myself as a player and my generic party members, who have no personality and no interactions. Not only do they not talk to each other, they don’t even talk to the plot characters; they’re just a band of silent heroes being driven from one very simple plot point to another. Add to that the fact that you don’t fight battles, but simply sit back and let the AI do its thing with whatever equipment and commands you’ve set, and I can see why it was a huge disappointment when I was a kid and a video game purchase was a big deal.

Still, the music is good, and there is a stark epicness to it as well as a feeling that this would more closely resemble a real adventure in a medieval land than the usual game. I may never get to feeling like my party members are real characters, but I could imagine developing an interest in the world and its legends and scenario.

I can’t say that either of these games are really gems, but I’m glad to be able to pull up something I have only dim memories of and take another look at it. I’m so grateful that emulators and ROMs make it possible for me to load them up on a whim, when otherwise I might never have had the resources to pursue something like this just out of curiosity when I don’t own the pak or a working system. I love technology.


Failcat Causes Fail November 6, 2008

Filed under: Metagaming,Retro games — haounomiko @ 12:28 pm
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The world keeps turning. I’ve started practicing for Super Mario World speed runs. After completing a few runs with abysmal times, I began to understand that I was wasting a lot of time being cautious. If I play recklessly I might screw up, but if I don’t then my time will be better; on the other hand, if I screw up even once then I’ll have to start over from the beginning.

So I have a lot of practice ahead of me. Last night I nearly completed a decent run, but I died near the end of Bowser’s castle because my cat decided to come over and headbutt my hands while I was playing. She didn’t mean any harm by it, of course, but it was rather frustrating. Back to the start screen for me…

Incidentally, The Backloggery is a site that may be of interest. Although ostensibly for cataloguing one’s game collection for one’s own benefit, I wonder if it will become the seed of a social networking site for gamers. I wouldn’t mind that.


MillionHeir: None of These Things Actually Belong Here September 28, 2008

I recently had Mystery Case Files: MillionHeir loaned to me. I’d never heard of this game before, and it seems to be American-made, so I was a little dubious about it; it turns out that it was just new, but also that it wasn’t as great as the lender claimed it was.

It’s the kind of game that can provide some mindless fun, but is hardly anything spectacular. The idea is that you are a detective hunting for clues about each suspect on a case. You find clues by going to various locations and finding a list of arbitrary objects in a background cluttered with many more arbitrary objects. The list seems to be randomly generated, and it is never explained what bearing it has on the mystery for you to find a fish, a tire axle, a fork, and three instances of the letter E. None of the characters have any noticeable personality, and it feels very much like playing a kids’ magazine game, but just a bit more difficult.

I wouldn’t particularly recommend it unless you’re bored and you can borrow someone else’s copy. I did have it recommended to me by a GameStop employee who heard that I liked Phoenix Wright. He introduced it with the phrase, “It’s not an attorney game, but…” As if “attorney game” were a whole genre now. I would say, though, that “crime game” is becoming a big genre, particularly on the DS. I think the stylus lends itself well to searching for clues and examining evidence, so perhaps that’s why we’re seeing such a proliferation of them. I do like the genre. I’ve ordered the first Touch Detective game on the internet, so we’ll see how that goes.

In other news: this article on SNES RPGs filled me with nostalgic happiness. I think the author’s rankings seem rather biased towards personal preferences, but overall he’s done a good job, in my opinion, of identifying an amazing lineup of games. Any RPG fan who missed out on that era should go down that list and play every game on it.