February 18, 2013
Released on November 25, 2002 in North America, this compilation collects the majority of Activision’s output on the Atari 2600 and a little more. There are other versions of this game out there on various platforms and truth be told, the PC version appears to be the most complete, but hey, this is what I have. The Wikipedia entry for this game has a wonderful breakdown of what each version includes by the way.
Activision Anthology is nearly over the hill with a list of games that almost numbers fifty. Although many are rather simplistic – requiring the player to learn to uncomplicated mechanics and progressively improve their score – that doesn’t mean these games aren’t worth playing. This simplicity is these games’ selling point. Understanding the mechanics of these games comes quickly, but having a fantastic session and lighting up the scoreboard is something that requires practice.
With the passage of time though, Activision’s games grew more complicated and some, like Pitfall!, revolve more around the experience of a single player. Though sparse here, these games offer a break from the monotony of shooting waves of advancing enemies. Should this offering wear thin after a sojourn with each title, multiplayer should reinvigorate one’s time with Activision Anthology.
One thing the PS2 game has going for it that perhaps not every version does is top-notch presentation. Barking Lizards Technologies and Contraband Entertainment really knocked it out of the park. Be it through these companies or someone at Activision, it’s clear that there was a real affection for Activision’s output in this era. Rather than a list of games to choose from, the “main menu” is instead stylized after a room as it might look in the 1980s. Situated inside are the Atari 2600, a rack of cartridges, and an old stereo among other goodies.
Hands down, the coolest feature has to be the ability to unlock patches for high scores or other criteria. After achieving a specific goal, a player back in the early 1980s could submit photographic proof to Activision in return for a patch signaling the accomplishment. These patches are quite the collector’s item today and spotlight a cool appreciation program from the past. Also spotlighting the past are the cheesy, premise-based commercials that can also be unlocked; these are definitely worth viewing.
The wealth of games to play, not to mention the numerous unlockables have kept me satiated longer than anticipated, and I don’t have a particular fondness for the Atari 2600! After a week or so, I’m still playing some of these games trying to beat personal best scores and to experience new enemies and stage designs. That’s the bread and butter of this package. Despite the wonderful presentation, the games are the reason to pick Activision Anthology up.
May 30, 2012
Distilling MS Saga: A New Dawn to its most basic pieces is pretty easy, even after playing the game for only twenty or so minutes. Before I do that though, let me give some background information. MS Saga is a role-playing game for the PlayStation 2 based off of the Gundam franchise. It was released in North America on February 21, 2006 and was developed and published by Bandai. As it’s based off of the long-running anime series, mobile suits are abound, however it tells an original story. Now, onto a succinct distillation.
For starters, the gameplay is very traditional, and by that I mean basic. According to Wikipedia, the game was designed to be accessible to an audience unfamiliar with Gundam. I’d also add that it was designed to be accessible to those unfamiliar with RPGs because the combat seems ripped from a fifteen year old game, which isn’t bad. Bandai didn’t need to set the world on fire with a video game based off of a preexisting property. Instead they built a simple RPG around that property, and that works for me. I’m not an avid fan of Gundam and I like that MS Saga is easy to get into. Sometimes, I just want a simple RPG to play, one that I can casually play while listening to a podcast, all the while still going through the motions of character development and advancement.
Because I barely played MS Saga, I can’t comment on the worth of the characters or their surrounding world. Still, it took me by surprise when I realized that the protagonist was a male when he looked like a female. Androgyny aside, I imagine that like the gameplay, MS Saga is filled with characters and scenarios I’ve seen before. With the exception of piloting giant human-like mecha that is.
Mobile Suit Gundam is one of the most influential anime series out there, but in the video game realm, the Gundam franchise has been anything but influential. The franchise has been incredibly prevalent, appearing on many systems with many releases, and from what I can remember, games were generally received lukewarmly and that sums up my feelings regarding MS Saga: A New Dawn.
May 22, 2012
Released in 2005 for the PlayStation 2, Samurai Western is a spinoff of Acquire’s Way of the Samurai series. To say the developer, also known for the Tenchu and Shinobido series’, dabbled in similar games, thematically and genre-wise, would be an understatement; samurai and ninja are their bread and butter. Dropping a samurai in the Wild West should instantly intrigue most people, and their execution pays homage to classic westerns and samurai films, if not directly aping tropes. However, the combat is basic and controlling the protagonist exemplifies the brittleness to the combo system and his mechanical movement.
Gojiro Kiryu, a samurai vehemently dedicated to the tradition, has traveled to the Wild West in search of his brother. Rando has forsaken the way of the samurai after coming to the conclusion that the sword is obsolete in a world that’ll soon be ruled by guns. Gojiro’s search takes him to a picturesque western town with a massive bar, wooden facades of buildings, and of course a tyrannical leader. That leader, Goldberg, has co-opted Gojiro’s brother and with the help of the (no longer) lone gunman Ralph, the dopey sheriff Donald, and many townsfolk, Gojiro defeats Goldberg and his goons and eventually settles the score with his brother.
Samurai Western’s story unravels through diary entries of main characters and brief cutscenes, and it’s a no-frills experience all the way through. Stereotypes and tropes are abundant as players plow through Samurai Western’s fifteen short stages, but the game still took me longer to complete than I expected thanks to the RPG elements it incorporates.
Not relying solely on the subpar combat, Samurai Western also features a smidgen of character development and customization. Like a typical RPG, Gojiro gains experience from killing enemies and when he levels up, I can assign experience points into his health, magic, strength, or defense. A few bosses were way too tough for me initially; requiring me to replay earlier stages a dozen or so times to beef up. Even then, those bosses were still super challenging. There were also unlockable accessories that improved my character’s stats, and spiffed him up.
Back to the subpar combat comment. Samurai Western’s combat doesn’t have a flow; I know I’m just pressing buttons to chain together attacks, but there are so many other games that can do it and make me feel like I’m not just pressing buttons such as God of War, another 2005 action game. It might’ve been the animation or the timing required for combos, but I couldn’t make the game’s combat a habit.
Something that had me confused as I was slicing cowboys into tiny bits (not really) was the lack of clear objectives. I would know to defeat all of so-and-so’s minions, but it sometimes seemed like I really needed to get to a certain point in the stage. Other times, stages would drag on and I imagine I needed to kill a specific number of goons. This lack of clarity oftentimes had me doubting the clear conditions after minutes of combat and I’d begin wandering around until I arrived at a place that looked like somewhere I needed to go.
I enjoyed Samurai Western, but it’s not entirely a recommendable game. Japanese and Americans both have a definite nostalgia for their manly men, and it’s fitting that they get mashed together in a surreal way. The gameplay in Samurai Western seems very mechanical though and honestly, the story isn’t new; I’m sure most people are familiar with its rehashed tropes. Of course, I’m still glad I played it.
January 4, 2012
I’ll often times try to find a game that my friend Jeff and I can play through. I’ll look for something that’s not very long and will provide some form of entertainment. When we last hung out, I came across a copy of Fugitive Hunter: War on Terror and I knew it met these criteria. Fugitive Hunter: War on Terror was developed by Santa Monica, California based Black Ops Entertainment, and released for the PlayStation 2 on November 18, 2003 courtesy of publisher Encore.
Fugitive Hunter: War on Terror follows the exploits of one man, Jack Seaver and his travels to hunt down fugitives. Before beginning the game I thought he might’ve been a bounty hunter, but he’s actually a member of a fictional government agency whose responsibility it is to hunt down America’s most wanted fugitives. Jack travels around the world hunting fugitives who pose increasing amounts of risk to America’s safety.
Most of the game was a first-person shooter. Controlling Jack, I’d venture through straightforward levels taking care to mow down every baddie I ran into. These thugs ranged from local gang members to Al Qaeda. There was a variety of weapons and many alterative fire options, although I mostly stuck with shotguns which obliterated enemies from far away.
An interesting feature to the FPS gameplay was the ability to lock-on to enemies. By pressing the square button, my reticle would automatically hover over an on-screen enemy. Aiming and moving was a little too sensitive, so I appreciated this feature, but I did over utilize it. I refrained from manually aiming unless the lock-on feature wouldn’t target an enemy. This simplified the game and made it seem like a guided experience; linear levels coupled with intense auto aiming meant all I had to do was move and pull the trigger. It didn’t always target the “best fit” enemy. While my reticle might have been right next to an enemy, it might target someone in the corner of the screen. Instances of this happening led to a few deaths.
Besides tracking down Jack’s target, I’d also have a few secondary objectives of finding or destroying important items. These were sometimes hard to locate even though the levels were linear. I nearly gave up in the first level until I realized my objectives were represented on my radar by a white dot. I was surprised by how competent the gameplay was, with the exception of items being too nondescript. Black Ops Entertainment had a solid track record up to the game’s release; having developed the PlayStation James Bond games they had much experience with the genre.
A gameplay element that didn’t stand up to scrutiny was the fighting. Before Jack could capture the fugitives he had to wail them into submission. At this point the gameplay switched from a FPS to a fighting game. I had a limited selection of moves and the most viable way to deal damage was with combos. After I hit on the fugitive a little, his health bar would flash indicating I should do a combo. It’d take a few combos to capture a fugitive and these weren’t always guaranteed; even though they were simple combinations of two buttons, combos didn’t seem to register all the time. Plus, the final fugitives attacked ferociously and didn’t leave much time to get hits in. Regardless I beat the crap out of and CAPTURED OSAMA BIN LADEN! How many other games can lay claim to that opportunity?
There’s a lot I like about Fugitive Hunter: War on Terror, albeit ironically. The whole premise of being able to beat up and capture Osama Bin Laden is weird, maybe a little exploitative considering what America had gone through a year or two prior. Jack constantly spewed awful one-liners and when he’d fight fugitives, he’d converse back and forth with them. After he’d capture the fugitives he’d perform an unnecessary and outlandish attack on the enemy; much of the game makes it seem like it’s a ten year old’s interpretation of a bounty hunter. But, the premise is unique and the gameplay – with the exception of the fighting – is solid. Good for a couple of hours of laughs with a friend.
December 20, 2011
Surprised by how much I enjoyed the Streets of Rage games earlier this year, I look upon beat ‘em ups in a new light nowadays. However I have yet to play one in 3D, disregarding games which feature beat ‘em gameplay but rely on many more elements, like Batman: Arkham City. Therefore The Bouncer is my first foray into a 3D beat ‘em up with a traditional, simpler focus.
The Bouncer was released very early on in the PlayStation 2’s life cycle. It was developed collaboratively by Square and Dream Factory and published by Square Electronic Arts on March 5, 2001. With Square being more familiar with RPGs, I assume most of the game’s development was handled by Dream Factory, known for fighting games with minor RPG elements at the time. Regardless of the pedigree, The Bouncer is a beat ’em up.
The Bouncer follows a group of three bouncers as they rescue their kidnapped friend. Sion, Volt, and Kou are all working when Dominique, a young girl who Sion recently found, gets captured by ninja-like thugs. As they search for Dominique, they get involved with a major corporation run by a megalomaniac named Dauragon. He is the root cause for their woes and they deal with him and others as they get closer to finding Dominique and unraveling Dauragon’s plans.
It took less than two hours to complete The Bouncer and I liked the pacing of events. Unlike an RPG which may resolve a minor story thread over the span of hours, The Bouncer introduced a few key players early on and dealt with them over the short run time. I didn’t know a lot about the characters, but I didn’t need back story to understand them. Sion had strong feelings for Dominque and wanted to rescue her. Dauragon had a complicated past that shed light on his reasoning for kidnapping Dominque, but then the plot in general snowballed into craziness.
Whereas the older beat ‘em ups are primarily gameplay with little story development, The Bouncer is mostly story with minor gameplay bits. I haven’t tested it myself but some say that 2/3 of The Bouncer is cutscenes, and that sounds right and maybe for the best.
I didn’t like The Bouncer’s gameplay. Attacks felt like one-time affairs that could rarely evolve into a combo and never be chained with another attack. I had four attacks: low, medium, and high as well as a jump attack. I never mixed and matched attacks with any success and combos were short bursts of the same attack dependent upon how much pressure I applied to the attack button; The Bouncer took advantage of the PS2s unique pressure sensitivity feature. I found that I could lightly press the high three times and get a nice combo and I stuck with this.
Because attacks felt like one-time affairs, the combat felt stilted, very stop and go. The same can be said for the overall pacing of The Bouncer. I’d witness a few cutscenes and then get to play, only to defeat two enemies and watch more cutscenes. I found it jarring how little I spent actually playing the game. Most of the combat took place in closed off areas resembling arenas with only a few stages requiring me to get from point A to B. Some of the stages lasted less than a minute.
When I did get to play the game I had the option of choosing which bouncer I wanted to play as. They each had their own stats that could be upgraded. Implementing an element of RPGs, I gained experience from each enemy I took out. I could then apply the experience to level up Sion, Volt, or Kou’s health, power, or defense, or use the experience to learn a special attack. I stuck with Sion and focused on boosting his stats and it had a noticeable effect.
The Bouncer, my first foray into a traditional 3D beat ‘em up was lackluster. The gameplay was rough around the edges, what little of it there was. The addition of the experience system is actually a solid idea and tied with the game’s short length and multiple playable characters, it’s conducive to me playing more of the game. In retrospect, maybe I should’ve given more credence to the pedigree, because at the time Square seemed more interested in making movies, not beat ‘em ups.
August 23, 2011
Developed by Game Arts and published by Enix, Grandia Xtreme was the third game in the series to be released in the United States. It came out in 2002 for the PlayStation 2 and is notable for being a departure from Grandia and Grandia II. Instead of playing like a traditional Japanese role-playing game where players follow a town-dungeon-town format, Grandia Xtreme focuses on dungeon crawling. The dungeons are plentiful and they are challenging. But Grandia Xtreme has an identity crisis. Game Arts tried to get the best of both genres and came up short.
I assumed the role of Evann, a young Ranger who has distaste for the military, especially for one of its commanding officers, Colonel Kroitz. However, they come seeking his skills. After refusing to assist the army, they kidnap him. Once he wakes up he is briefed by the military and eventually agrees to lend them a hand, begrudgingly.
There have been a number of environmental disorders and the military thinks it might have something to do with ancient ruins located nearby, go figure. So Evann, along with a ragtag group of fellow warriors quell the disorders by removing ancient slabs from the heart of these ruins. After the disorders have been taken care of, Kroitz takes these slabs and opens a fifth ruin and it’s apparent he’s up to no good. While this was immediately clear from the first time he spoke, it took the gang forever to figure out he simply wanted to harness Quanlee, the ultimate power.
Remember how I said Grandia Xtreme differs from Grandia and Grandia II? Well, the biggest difference between these three is their format. Grandia and Grandia II stuck with a familiar town-dungeon-town format, and generally speaking the dungeons in these two games weren’t that tough.
Grandia Xtreme instead has a primary town (Locca) that the group works from, although there was a second town to be fair (Escarre). Instead of adventuring around and exploring new areas, I simply warped to the dungeon I needed to go to; and these were tough! In general they were much larger and held tougher enemies than the previous games. Same goes for the boss battles; these guys were tough, requiring level grinding at the end.
The best thing about the Grandia games has always been the combat, and Grandia Xtreme excels here. The battle system is pretty much directly lifted from Grandia II. Throw in the ability to fight more enemies at once and speed it up a little, and it’s the best of the three. Magic and skills function the same way, although mana eggs have slightly changed. This time around, eggs can be combined to form new eggs, and there are a lot of combinations to figure out.
Okay, so besides the format, there are other qualities of Grandia Xtreme that made me say it has an identity crisis. First off, six of the seven companions that join Evann, join him at the same time; and there is really little exposition for them. Throughout the game, I learned a little more about them individually, but they were really flat characters. In comparison, Grandia and Grandia II featured many characters that grew throughout their adventures. The second major aspect that draws my criticism is the item format. I would’ve preferred randomly dropped loot from enemies instead of acquiring gear as I would in a traditional RPG: buying better gear when it’s available from the store.
I don’t usually do this but there were a lot of minor gripes I had with Grandia Xtreme that I’m going to have a complaint dump. There’s not a lot of voice acting in the game, and what’s present is either overacted or just spoken awkwardly. There wasn’t much depth the characters or overarching storyline. Not including an item that could warp me back to town stunk, as did the infrequent save opportunities. The camera moved slowly in dungeons and I would’ve preferred having the camera controls mapped to the right analog stick rather than L1 and R1. Characters crossed paths too often in battle, canceling their turns. On the bright side, load times were practically nonexistent; much better.
I really want to say I enjoyed Grandia Xtreme. Leveling up characters and equipping them with new gear, just to watch their stats incrementally improve is somehow exciting to me and Grandia Xtreme was very pleasing. The dungeons were challenging and fulfilling, and the battle system is top notch. But, I’m glad to be done with the game, and can’t recommend it over Grandia or Grandia II.
July 9, 2011
Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Zombie Ninja Pro-Am isn’t a good video game. Owning every DVD release of the show, I’d definitely consider myself a fan of the show’s vulgar and very odd humor. And that humor is present in Zombie Ninja Pro-Am, but practically every aspect of the gameplay is pitiful.
Developed by Creat Studios and published by Midway in 2007 for the PlayStation 2, Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Zombie Ninja Pro-Am blends golfing, beat ‘em up gameplay, and kart racing for a madcap combination of genres.
Of the twelve stages in the game, nine of them were centered on golfing. As Master Shake I’d play a hole of golf, beginning by teeing off and then fighting my way to the ball’s location. When it was time to tee off, a meter appeared on the bottom of the screen. After hitting the X button, a bar would move to the left in the meter, representing the strength I was putting into my swing; after pressing X again, the bar would return to the right of the meter. At this point I had to press the X button a third time, timing it just right to try and get a straight flying shot.
This method for golfing is commonly used in other golfing video games, but it didn’t seem totally accurate in Zombie Ninja Pro-Am. When I maxed out the power portion of the meter, even if I had near-perfect accuracy, my ball would fly to the left or right far more than it should have. I did have to take wind into account, but I never thought it was bad enough to affect my ball too much.
The holes I played through represented the dystopian atmosphere present in the TV show. They were run down and contained all sorts of death traps and odd backdrops. From the nuclear waste filled courses of New Jersey, to the Moon and even Hell. And they were all populated by enemies to fight off.
After striking the golf ball, I had to walk to it, fighting my way through hordes of enemies and finding pickups along the way. During this portion of the game I controlled either Master Shake or Frylock from the third-person perspective. I could switch between them on the fly and utilized both of their fighting abilities based on my enemies.
Playing as Master Shake I swung his golf clubs, guitar, or whatever eclectic pickup I found. Playing as him I mashed the attack button, hacking and slashing my way through enemies. I never felt like I really connected with the enemies, and the hit detection wasn’t that great.
If I played as Frylock, I instead dealt with enemies at a distance, shooting fireballs, lightning, or missiles out of Frylock’s eyes. Playing as Frylock, a lock-on box would appear on the enemies, letting me know that my attacks would connect. But Frylock’s attacks were slow, and sometimes after an enemy had died, his attacks would still target the nonexistent enemy.
Fighting to the golf ball was a chore. There were a lot of enemies that spawned between me and the ball, and the combat wasn’t fun. Most of the enemies took more than one hit to die, and it was easy to get surrounded if I didn’t deal with them right away. There were many pickups to find on my trek to the ball. Many were Enchiladitos, restoring my health, with many being more weapon pickups, and less often mulligans and pickups aiding in my golfing.
The final genre Zombie Ninja Pro-Am tackled was kart racing. At three points in the game, the frat aliens D.P. (his dad owns a dealership) and Skeeter would challenge Master Shake to a race. Boarding their run down golf cart, the gang raced the frat aliens around a few holes in the game. During these sections we did three laps around the hole, hitting checkpoints along the way, and trying to get speed boosts and bazooka pickups. The golf cart’s handling was a little floaty, but I was able to conquer these sections on my first attempt. In fact they’re probably the best gameplay portions of the game.
The game’s twelve stages went by at a fast clip; I completed the game in two or three sessions. The golfing portion of the game was competent enough to get by, but I always questioned why my ball landed where it did. And full disclosure, I never made par, at best I made bogey with the assistance of mulligans. The combat was easily the worst part of the game. I only died a few times during these sections, but they weren’t fun. And finally the kart racing; I looked forward to these sections because I knew they’d be short and get me to the end of the game a little quicker.
Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Zombie Ninja Pro-Am was a very poor game that just so happened to be based around one of my favorite TV shows. The game played out like an episode of the show and was just as funny. In each stage there was a popular character from the TV show, putting a smile on my face with the ridiculous cutscenes, but the gameplay wasn’t fun. It’s recommendable only for those who are ate up with the TV show, and it’s pretty cheap anymore; I picked up a new copy for fewer than ten dollars.
April 19, 2011
Besides the standard version of Final Fantasy XII, Square Enix released a collector’s edition of the game, exclusively to GameStop and EB Games in the United States. This version included the game and the same manual, of course, but it also came in a SteelBook package, along with a DVD containing a few special features.
Many games have since been released in these SteelBook packages, but I think Final Fantasy XII has one of the best ones. The front cover is simple, while the art on the inside of the case is intricate and detailed. It looks nice as a display piece on a shelf; otherwise it slips nicely in with the rest of a video game library being the typical DVD size case.
Included on the DVD are developer interviews, a history of Final Fantasy featurette, an art gallery, and trailers for the game.
There are quite a few developer interviews, twelve exactly, and they offer insights into different aspects of the game, from the director and what he was in charge of to what went into the translation. They’re all under five minutes, but there’s actually a lot of content to take in, and I always like hearing about what went into making a game.
The history of Final Fantasy featurette is a great way for people unfamiliar with the mainline Final Fantasy catalogue to get up to speed. The narrator discusses similar concepts with each game, and it would’ve been nice if he delved a little deeper into each game, but at thirty minutes, it’s a great primer to the series.
Viewing an art gallery on a DVD is about the last thing I want to do, but to its credit, there is a bunch of art included and it’s all tucked away in categories to aid in finding something specific. I feel the same way about the trailers. They’re put together very nicely, but I’m not learning anything new from them.
The collector’s edition of Final Fantasy XII is a nice package. The developer interviews were insightful, the history of Final Fantasy featurette was informative, but the art gallery and the trailers didn’t interest me too much. At this point it appears to sell complete for about ten dollars, comparable to the standard edition so if you’re in the market for the game, I’d recommend the collector’s edition.
April 6, 2011
I’ve completed another Final Fantasy, this time a more modern one, Final Fantasy XII. While I am knowledgeable about the series, I haven’t played a ton of them, but this is easily my favorite. I spent a month and a half playing through Final Fantasy XII in bits and pieces when I had the time and I’ve thought a lot about the game in the weeks since I beat it, what I’ve written are the my biggest takeaways from the game. I’ll talk about the world at large in Final Fantasy XII, Ivalice, the characters that form the party, the story very briefly, and the battle system. In general I feel Final Fantasy XII is a staple in the collection of anyone who enjoys role-playing games, and worth a look even for those don’t.
Final Fantasy XII takes place in Ivalice, a familiar environment for the series, home to the Final Fantasy Tactics games, as well as Vagrant Story. Ivalice spans many geographical regions, including many deserts, but it’s also home to snow covered mountains, tropical beaches, thick rainforests and more. Passing through these regions, I enjoyed not only the battles that took place in them, but marveling at the amount of work that went into making each location as detailed as they turned out.
Smack dab in the center of Ivalice is Dalmasca, home to Rabanastre, the city where much of the game takes place. Rabanastre is large, the largest city I’ve ever seen in a role-playing game, or any video game for that matter. Walking through its many areas, I viewed the beautiful architecture that it was composed of, reminiscent of a Europe of ages past. But Rabanastre isn’t the only large city in the game, there are others, but there is diversity in Final Fantasy XII; more common are the small gatherings of people, forming makeshift hubs, or villages in the heart of the wilderness, composed of foreign races.
After reading that the developers had visited Turkey and took an interest in European, Middle Eastern, and Asian cultures for the game, it’s easy to see that the influence has found a place in the game, specifically, much of Ivalice is set in a warmer climate, with Rabanastre being surrounded by deserts on all sides.
The vocabulary the characters often spoke with prompted me to look at some words’ meaning more than once and I’m not digging the game for it; I enjoyed hearing seemingly archaic words, broadening my own vocabulary; it’s something that helped reel me into the setting. Even though the game has an antique vibe, technology is everywhere. One of the first cut scenes in the game shows a battle raging with foot soldiers on the ground dressed in armor and swinging swords at each other; one side attempting to defend a castle-like structure with the other side attempting to capture it, meanwhile an aerial dogfight is going on between futuristic flying crafts, zipping about. This blend of swords and soldiers and futuristic sci-fi was an interesting juxtaposition of aesthetics.
Ivalice is a world built on the foundations of magicite; a magical crystal substance that holds power, power that inevitably will end up in the wrong hands. Long ago the Dynast-King Raithwall united all of Ivalice under his rule, with the help of magicite, bestowed to him by the mysterious Occuria, undying, god-like beings. The time of the Dynast-King Raithwall was thousands of years ago and current day Ivalice is on the brink of war.
The battle I mentioned earlier was between the Dalmascans, protecting Nabradia, the border between them and their attackers from the east, the Archadians. Archadia is a large kingdom, perhaps the most powerful at this time in Ivalice and they want Dalmasca. Why? Perhaps they want Dalmasca to allow them easy passage to a third kingdom, Rozarria in the far west. During the final moments of this battle, the king of Dalmasca has agreed to sign a treaty with Archadia, but he is assassinated directly after.
A couple of years after this, we are introduced to Vaan and Penelo, two orphans living in Rabanastre who both lost their parents in the war, as well as Vaan’s brother, who fought at Nabradia. Vaan has much disdain for the empire, after all the war took his whole family. Vaan doesn’t have much direction in life, he spends his days running errands for a shopkeeper along with other orphans of the war, but much of his time is spent stealing from others. His only real goal is to become a sky pirate and be able to live freely, going wherever he wants. Penelo seems to be the angel on Vaan’s shoulders, leading him out of trouble and attempting to prevent him from getting into any more. While Vaan has his goal of becoming a sky pirate, all it seems Penelo wants is to remain at Vaan’s side, and not lose anyone else.
Rabanastre is soon paid a visit by a member of the Archadian royal family, and the newest overseer of Rabanastre, Vayne Solidor, the son of the Archadian king. He is a charismatic person; as he begins speaking to the crowd of Rabanastrans, it’s apparent they don’t want what he’s selling, but Vayne is able to whip the crowd into frenzy and get behind his rule, at least somewhat, with a charming presence and an intelligent tone; he seems peculiar though. Vayne is tall, with long black hair, and a smile that seems… off, he just looks like an antagonist. After Vayne’s speech, Vaan decides to break into the royal tomb and steal something back from the empire and it’s during this escapade that he meets Balthier and Fran.
Balthier has a cool personality about him, he always appears to be in control of the situation; basically he’s the dashing pirate. His partner Fran is a viera, a woman with rabbit like features, including long ears and hair that practically flows to the ground. Like Balthier she also has a cool personality, never coming off as nervous. She definitely shows her smarts throughout the game, offering practical advice and necessary knowledge of magicite. As the game progresses Balthier comes to view himself as the leading man, and why not, being a sky pirate he has the airship that eventually transports the party, he shows an altruistic side later on and all in all, he’s just a fun character. And from the events that unfold, his past is brought to light and wow!
As they make their way out of the royal tomb, they soon stumble into a rebel group, headed by an unassuming beauty, who is later found out to be the princess of Dalmasca, Ashe. She is a strong-willed fighter who wants nothing more but to restore Dalmasca to the kingdom it was before Archadia took over. As the story progresses she has to find the strength within herself to do what she must; even though she is strong-willed, she has doubts about what she has to do, and whether she can pull off what must be done. At times she seems distant from the rest of the party members, almost focusing solely on what lies ahead for her, but with what lies ahead for her, who wouldn’t be focusing on that, after all, Ivalice’s future is practically on her shoulders.
Last, but not least, there is Basch, a former leader in the Dalmascan army, but now an outcast, as he has been charged with assassinating the king. The party finds him in prison, and while they know what he has done, they know they need him. But Basch does not have the demeanor or the attitude of a royal assassin; it becomes instantly apparent that this cannot be the man who murdered a king. He is a soldier through and through, showing respect for the rest of the party, and pledging allegiance to Ashe in particular.
There was a lot going on in the narrative of Final Fantasy XII, at times I felt overwhelmed, but I managed to sift through the dense amount of information and enjoyed the payoff. In the last ten or so hours of the game, all these story threads were coming to a close, and I didn’t want to stop playing; I was the most hooked to the game at the very end. I clocked in under 80 hours when I finally beat the game, and I still had plenty to do. I aim to replay Final Fantasy XII at some point, and I left plenty of side quests for that play through but I did an ample amount regardless. Final Fantasy XII is simply a massive game, with a massive amount of content.
I guess the only thing I haven’t talked about is the actual gameplay and the systems Final Fantasy XII employs. With each Final Fantasy, Square Enix implements a new battle system, or tweaks aspects of a previous one and Final Fantasy XII is no different.
Many role-playing games have plenty of areas to explore, and they’re usually broken up into towns, a world map that the party traverses, and dungeons. Typical of many RPGs, especially those from Japan are random battles. For instance, as I’m moving my party around the world map or a dungeon I see no enemies, but I’m randomly attacked and whisked off into a battle scene in which I choose the actions I want to take, and once I’ve won, I’m back to the world map or dungeon. Instead of random battles, when I wouldn’t know when I’d be attacked, Final Fantasy XII shows enemies while I’m traversing dangerous areas. This isn’t the biggest change however.
Just as random battles are common in role-playing games from Japan, so are turn-based battles, battles where everyone is allotted a turn, including the enemies. In games like this I would pick an action, my character would do that, and then the enemy would do the same. Instead of being whisked off to a battle scene in Final Fantasy XII, the party members begin attacking enemies whenever they’re in range, never being taken into a separate scene. Direct control was never taken away from me, I could move about and select the actions I wanted and when the battle was done, the party relinquished their weaponry and I continued exploring the area. This “Active Dimension Battle” system as Square Enix calls it requires real-time selection of actions, and as such, I didn’t wait for the enemy to have his turn and then take mine. I’d select an action for a party member to take, and then a bar would fill up and they would do that action, there are still elements of taking turns, but never losing direct control of my team went a long way in making me not feel limited.
Rather than entering in actions for each party member, I could assign “gambits” to them. Gambits tell the AI to “do this, if that.” There are hundreds of separate gambits and when paired up, they’ll tell an AI-controlled party member to do something. For instance, I could have Vaan use a potion on a party member when their health falls below a certain percentage, or attack only flying enemies. Each character can have twelve gambits assigned to them maximum, and they’ll follow them according to their priority. I felt as though I could pair gambits up for any occasion, even though I used fairly simple combinations, I knew I could get very creative with them. For the first twenty or so hours I assigned gambits to the two AI-controlled members of my party and chose every action for my main character, but I eventually had everyone using gambits. Instead of being a player on the field, I was more of a referee, changing actions when I thought something would work better or just healing somebody because I hadn’t told an AI member to watch out for a certain adverse affect.
With Final Fantasy XII, Square Enix developed Ivalice into one of the biggest and most detailed game worlds I’ve played through; introduced me to well-developed characters who did not seem like the played out caricatures I’m used to in role-playing games; showcased an interesting story, one that harkened back to the roots of Final Fantasy, with crystal-powered life, all the while, weaving an interesting mature tale of corruption and complex relationships. Lastly, I experienced gameplay systems that brought new elements to a genre I spend so much time with. For these things, and many smaller elements, Final Fantasy XII will be a game I gauge all others by.
December 3, 2010
With Grandia II, Game Arts took the formula they implemented in Grandia, simply iterated upon it, which works with me, I loved Grandia and it creates another fantastic Japanese role-playing game with a fun battle system and compelling story. Grandia II, as with Grandia, is set in a, mostly, bright and colorful world.
If I were to condense the themes presented in Grandia, I’d say it focused on adventure and discovery, of exploring unknown territories and learning about new cultures. Grandia II on the other hand focuses more on our spiritual relationships and the role and impact of religion in the world. Grandia II is the story of Ryudo, a gun-for-hire and Elena, a songstress in the Church of Granas. Ryudo is hired to be her bodyguard, but things go awry early on and they soon learn that Valmar (the evil god and Granas’ opposite) could reawaken and bring destruction to their world, what’s more, Elena is possessed by a piece of Valmar, which manifests itself occasionally, and transforms Elena into Millenia. This shape shifting element is interesting and provides for a character that is the polar opposite of Elena, like Granas to Valmar. Throughout the game they meet new party members who give a taste of the different regions in the game and are generally likeable. This wasn’t the case with Ryudo; at first he was a prick and very ignorant of others; the way he responded to peoples questions and concerns was off-putting, but as the game progressed, he became more comfortable with the people around him and as the on-going situations evolved, he revealed more about himself and became a more likeable character. Like, Grandia, Grandia II is light-hearted for the most part, with plenty of humor and fun gameplay, although the progression appears very formulaic, town, dungeon, town dungeon, etc.
Throughout the game, the story unraveled more and more, finally reaching a crescendo of understanding and going pass that crescendo into a surprising twist in lore. Grandia II is a more succinct adventure than Grandia with the game lacking in extra content. There isn’t any reason to go back and play more when done , there isn’t a new game plus mode, and the way the game ends it’s sort of hard to anyways, which is a shame because as with Grandia, I would still go back and battle more If I could.
The battle system, originating in Grandia takes turn-based battles, and added an element of real-time choice to it, creating a satisfying blend of action, which hit a spot in my psyche that loves being in control. The battle system has changed very little from Grandia. There are only a few things off the top of my head that I can think of that changed from Grandia to Grandia II. Instead of leveling up magic and special skills through use, you now attribute points to the individual moves. I thought it very clever in Grandia that special moves and magic leveled up and became stronger through use, thus, I used stat boosting/reducing spells more than I normally would in another JRPG. Also, instead of learning new magic spells by reaching certain requirements with certain elements of magic, in Grandia II you receive eggs which contain 18 preselected spells. There are more eggs than party members so there is always ample choice.
Noriyuki Iwadare returns as the composer and I enjoy his soundtracks a great deal. They are lighthearted and fun, which matches the general tone of Grandia II. Although there are, darker sections of the game, his compositions match the feeling, often, if not always. Familiar tonal themes are repeated throughout the game, with the actual compositions changing up slightly. I can see many people listening to the soundtrack and thinking it is quite cheesy with his ample use of electrical guitar, but I find it befitting the action and look of the game. The appearance, like in Grandia, is very appealing to me; the game is very bright, set in a, mostly, colorful world, with anime-like character designs–this is from Japan after all. The voice acting is fine, although what bugs me is that it isn’t totally voice-acted, barely any is, and this inconsistency always bothers me. The CG is also infrequent, and in most cases, very poor. The CG for cutscenes is almost laughably bad and strangely grainy, but when it is implemented into the higher level magic and special moves, the blend of normal graphics and CG or animation provides a unique clash that, at first seemed off putting, but quickly grew on me.
Grandia II was initially released on the Dreamcast in 2000, and then later ported to the PlayStation 2 and PC in 2002. I completed the Dreamcast version, played a bit of the PS2 version, and didn’t play the PC version. The Dreamcast version comes with a soundtrack CD that has twelve tracks of Grandia II related music, and I say related only because there are two remixes not present in the game. I enjoyed the selections and thought they provided a good cross section of Noriyuki Iwadare’s work here. The PS2 version included new CG cutscenes which take advantage of the hardware better, but still have the aspect of clashing with other aspects of the game. I played the PS2 version on a PlayStation 3 and due to this the game looked much crisper; this would probably be the way to play it. The PS2 version didn’t come with anything extra although the manual is very detailed. One of the main complaints against the PS2 version at its release was a poor port job, with the game hitching at times, I didn’t play very much of it, but did notice the game slowed down at points, but never when it mattered.
Grandia II is one of the finest games on the Dreamcast, and a fine Japanese role-playing game. With a well paced story and an incredible battle system, it’s worth seeking out if you’re a fan of JRPGs.