link love 10-16-08

October 16th, 2008

Two link loves in a row without a content post? Oh hell! To top it off, I forgot that today was recycling day, and the bins are full! Oh hell!

schild’s interview with Raph Koster is up, covering subscriptions, Metaplace, and fun. I still have problems reading the word ‘metaplace’ correctly.

Start to Finish: Publishing a Commercial iPhone Game.

IndieGames insightfully reviews 2D Boy’s World of Goo. I think I’m gonna get the Wii version.

Lux Touch is a free Risk-like game for the iPhone. Fun to play, definitely worth downloading, but not much in the way of options (that’s all coming in the later pay version). For me, Risk and Apple have always gone together; we played the hell out of Risk Deluxe on the SE back in school.

Finished: Beyond Good and Evil

October 2nd, 2008

“The war has arrived at the gates of Hillys!”

Prior to finally completing it last month, I’d attempted and then abandoned Beyond Good & Evil at least three or four times.

While the game is a bit slow to start (after the spectacular introductory sequence), the lack of a full playthrough was simply the result of my falling prey to a constant barrage of newer and shinier things. I’m not particularly known for my discipline.

But this time, this time, bolstered by both age and a sense of duty, I finally beat the damn thing.

Visually, Beyond Good and Evil holds up very well, particularly when played in progressive mode on a PS2 or PS3, and Christophe Heral’s score (he’ll be returning for the upcoming sequel) is considered to be among the best of the previous generation.

The game plays a bit like a stealth Zelda, with a hub-like overworld and a smattering of dungeon crawls, physical puzzles, and platforming segments. The photography and reporting aspects were my favorite part of the game, and I hope they lean heavily on those elements for the sequel.

Things seemed to wrap up a bit too quickly at the end, but I did enjoy the story, and found myself genuinely caring for the primary characters and their crusade.

With the second installment on its way, pick up and play BG&E if you haven’t. It’s available on Windows and all three of the last gen platforms, and can easily be had for less than ten bucks.

Plus/Minus:
+ Game starts off with a bang, throwing me immediately into a boss fight.
+ The button displays in the top left corner show relevant commands and are shaped and positioned like the buttons on the controller (varying per system). Yeah, everyone is into minimal UI these days, but this was really helpful.
+ The circular repeat-scrolling number/letter entry system is great! Much better than an onscreen keypad when using an analog device. I’m so stealing this.
+ After dying, the game sends you immediately back into play at the last (invisible) checkpoint. No loading saves, etc.
+ In-game hints from supporting characters were a nice touch. I rarely felt directionless or unable to progress.

Being forced to select the language every single time I booted the game.
The camera! The camera in interior spaces! Argh don’t do that!

? The final boss. I’m undecided, was it genius or really annoying? I was frustrated until I realized that holding the controller backwards was the secret, and then I felt brilliant for figuring it out. Still, how many players will just quit during the feeling frustrated part?

Final grade: A-

Finished: Crisis Core

September 2nd, 2008

With my drive to complete the Tron restoration before the end of the summer sabbatical, I haven’t had a whole lot of game time lately to make much headway into the play list. Luckily, I’m also behind on updating my progress, so hey, fresh content! The nice thing about playing games that are already a few years old… what’s another month or two before the write-up, right?

I’ve started to keep a play journal. No, not that sort of journal, but rather a good things, bad things video game journal. Whenever I come across a design element that is particularly aggravating or enjoyable, I mark it down. With the bad things, I think about what was avoidable, and how the issue could’ve been worked around; with the good ones, I note ’em for reference and future ah, appropriation. Sometimes I’ll draw little arrows off to the side pointing at the especially good ones.

So, play list update.

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII

Through and through, Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII is unapologetic fan service. With a story as melodramatic and convoluted as any in the Final Fantasy series and an appearance by pretty much anyone who was anyone in VII, hardcore fans of the original game will find plenty of references and tenuous links to go nuts over. While I’m no Final Fantasy superfan, I’d just finished VII a few weeks before, so characters, events, and relationships were all still fresh in my mind. Thankfully, the continuous stream of callbacks to the original were most often amusing, although rarely insightful.

In his review of the game, Simon Parkin found fault with the idea that, unlike Cloud in Final Fantasy VII, Zack is a voiced character. I disagree. In the original game, the player views Zack as someone else, a nonplayer, a relatively unknown member of Soldier whose identify Cloud takes on. Crisis Core tells his story, but by then he’s already been established as that someone else, a character with a history – not an empty vessel to be filled by the player – so his distinct voice and personality played, for me, a fiction-supporting role rather than being suspension-snapping baggage.

Overall, I really enjoyed the gameplay. Combat was a nice merging of action and Final Fantasy RPG, the materia system had enough depth to allow for a variety of play styles, and the control scheme was rarely frustrating. My absolute favorite part of the game, however, was the mission system, and I’d often drop in for a few missions when I didn’t have enough time to progress in the, ah, real game.

Final thoughts? Solid game, plays well to its intended platform and audience. A must-play for the fans, worth a look for everyone else.

Final grade: A-

Plus/Minus:
+ Pick up and play mission system is great fun, and is especially well-suited for a portable title.
DMV wheel! Tedious and slow after the first half-dozen fights. I would’ve liked a mechanism to speed through the reel rotations.
Strange hotspot-based random battle system. All this resulted in was my continuously hugging of the walls to avoid unnecessary combat.

Watched Advent Children a couple days after finishing Crisis Core. Not as good as I’d hoped, and a poor way to top things off. Square does best when they deliver their story little pieces at a time, I suppose. I also picked a cheap copy of Dirge, so I may take that up shortly just to knock out the series completely (well, everything but the cell phone game).

Finished: Final Fantasy VII

June 27th, 2008

I think I’ve mentioned it before, but let me clarify. I did not own a Playstation until the mid 2000s, and finally bought a PS2 this year. I was raised a BBS and PC gamer, first with an Atari 400, then an Amiga 500, followed by a Powermac 7100, and culminating with a move to the Windows platform shortly before the launch of the Everquest beta. In fact, aside from the family NES, the first new console I owned was an Xbox, in 2002.

Along with a desire to dedicate time towards revisiting classics and old favorites, this lack of experience with what many would consider to be the glory days of the console has played a significant role in shaping the roster that would become my 2008 play list.

Along with the Metal Gear Solid games, a series that I’ll be taking up shortly, one of the key entries in my pile of shame (I’ve been collecting the games for the play list for some time now) was Final Fantasy VII.

I did experience a bit of Final Fantasy VII back in 1997. There was what came to be a communal Playstation at a friend’s house, and through that year and the next I either watched or played through maybe 8-10 hours of the game, was familiar with most of the summons, and knew bits of the story. Still, I’d never sat down and actually played the game (or most of the other games in the series, for that matter, as the only two I’d played through until recently were the original Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy X), and as such, I don’t have the intense familiarity and nostalgia with the Square Enix juggernaut that many gamers do.

Thanks to custom firmware and a couple of handy applications, I was able to rip my copy of Final Fantasy VII and play on the PSP, the four inch screen giving the graphics less of a dated feel. While the game does have moments where you are forced to navigate off in the background, rendering Cloud as a diminutive heap of pixels in the distance, overall the game felt at home on the portable, and ran without a hitch.

Total time from the main theme to finale was nearly 40 hours, and that was with minimal attention given to ancillary objectives such as Chocobo collecting, Fort Condor battles, or the various Gold Saucer challenges. Of the secret characters, I welcomed Vincent into the party but managed to tell off Yuffie, causing her to run off into the forest, never to be seen again.

I had wondered how the story and would hold up after these years and without nostalgia to bolster it, and was left pleasantly surprised. Sure, Final Fantasy VII has its over the top moments and bouts of melodramatic silliness (it wouldn’t be a JRPG without ’em), but the chord of solid (and serious) storytelling held true throughout. While Aeris’ death — one of the most talked about moments in gaming history — was in no way a surprise, it was still affecting, and I felt for Cloud (er, driph), Barret, Tifa, Red XIII, and the rest of the cast, hoping that things would go well for them as their journeys progressed. Nobuo Uematsu’s soundtrack, backed by solid pacing and extraordinary cinematography, was effective and moving, and now that I’m able to connect the sounds with the moments I understand the emotional attachment many have to tracks such as “Aeris’ Theme” and “One-Winged Angel.”

My quibbles with the game are few. Mini-games, of which there were plenty, were a diversion at best and tedious at worst, although some, like the Fort Condor battles, were surprisingly sophisticated for playing such a minor role in the presentation. The random battles were bothersome but not gamebreakers, although I will admit to some tense (and impatient) moments running from point A to point B, cringing as the battle theme suddenly spooled up and the screen swirled. Finding just where to step was aggravating at times, the optional cue points an absolute necessity, although a healthy chunk of the blame can be attributed to playing the game on a screen it was never intended for.

So what’s next? Well, I’m already an hour into and enjoying the fan-service-heavy Crisis Core, to be followed by an evening spent with Final Fantasy VII Advent Children, Square Enix’ 2005 followup film. I’m even considering a run through the much-maligned Dirge of Cerberus, although I have a feeling I’ll have reached my fill of VII by that point. For now, I’m hooked, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a fanboy, I am a fan.

I’m still utterly baffled by the exorbitant prices the discs fetch on ebay, though. 9.5 million copies of the game were sold, people! 9.5 million!

Final Grade: A

Finished: Eternal Sonata

May 21st, 2008

Eternal Sonata is a weird one, in some ways a very typical JRPG, but with a wonderful score and brilliant art direction. The gameplay was solidly okay: the combat system was entertaining, the lack of random battles a definite plus, but the dungeons weren’t particularly inspired (although beautiful), and without maps a couple of them would have been exercises in tedium.

One aspect of the game that has received relatively little mention is the co-op mode, a feature I’d love to see become an RPG standard. While the primary player still dictates the flow of encounters, movement within the overworld, and equipment setup, there is an option to hand control of any of the three primary party members over to a second (or third) controller during combat. The additional player then controls every aspect of that character (including their part during Harmony Chains) whenever battle is entered. The system works well, and is a nice bonus for those of you that game with friends or a significant other beside you. Aside from Super Mario Galaxy, this is the first game I’ve seen with an asymmetrical co-op mode. It’s a welcome innovation, and I hope to see more.

Eternal Sonata also had what was probably the preachiest ending ever, taking both the story and player in unexpected directions. Still, solid nonetheless, and I do suggest staying through the credits for the kōan-filled short, The Shape of Life. Or just watch it on Youtube.

Final Grade: B