February 13, 2012
Situated between the modern Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden II, Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword provides a gaiden, or side story, to the series with one notable difference from those games – it’s portable. Dragon Sword was released for the Nintendo DS on March 25, 2008 and it tells of the continuing struggles of the elite ninja, Ryu Hayabusa.
Set six months after the first game, Dragon Sword sees Ryu’s native Hayabusa Village rebuilt and life returning to normal when a fellow villager and disciple of Ryu’s, Momiji, is kidnapped by the Black Spider Ninja Clan. As Ryu seeks Momiji, he discovers the plans of Obaba, leader of the Black Spider Ninja Clan. She wishes to empower the evil fiends with the Eye of the Dragon, a mystical jewel that would entail certain doom for humans if the fiends were able to obtain it. Ryu’s quest for Momiji requires the collection of eight dark dragonstones; each transporting him to the next one and eventually to Momiji.
Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword, like its predecessor, was headed up by Tomonobu Itagaki and his [former] elite ninja development studio Team Ninja. They deserve recognition for not losing the fast-paced action the series is known for in the transition to a portable, even more so considering the game makes heavy use of the DS’ touch screen.
The only buttons the game utilizes are for character movement, guarding, and pausing/opening menus; everything else is handled through touch. Slashing an enemy with my stylus resulted in Ryu quickly attacking. If I slashed upwards, Ryu would launch the enemy into the air and another upward slash would see him launching after the enemy to pummel it back into the ground. Ryu’s vanilla combo contained five fast attacks and I could decimate most enemies if I was accurate. Because he streaked around the arena, attacking multiple enemies was simple to do, and reminiscent of Batman’s melee in the Rocksteady developed Batman games.
These combos weren’t the only attacks at Ryu’s disposal. He also had some projectile attacks that were handy for dealing with weaker enemies. One attack I have a problem with is the ultimate technique. To pull it off, I had to furiously scribble on the screen, charging up this powerful attack. When initiated, projectiles targeted nearby enemies and did massive damage. It seemed hazardous to my DS’ touch screen using these attacks, but they were very helpful in clearing out rooms of weaker enemies. This attack seems at odds with the design philosophy of the series however. For a series that demands a high level of skill to succeed, the reckless ultimate techniques seem counter to that philosophy.
It took me around five hours to complete Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword and I had a good time with the game. The combat was fast-paced and easy to execute. Slashing arenas of enemies was a blast and the eventual boss fights provided a change from the fodder, both in scope and strategy. The plot unfolded as one would expect, but the occasional breaks from action for plot development were still appreciated. Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword takes full advantage of the unique capabilities of the Nintendo DS and because of the stellar implementation it remains a fantastic action game.
November 10, 2011
Coming hot off the heels of our completion of The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventure, my girlfriend and I have begun another GameCube game that features Game Boy Advance connectivity: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. Along with Four Swords Adventure, it’s the only other game that I can think of that featured connectivity prominently and was halfway well regarded.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles was developed by The Game Designers Studio (a Square Enix subsidiary) and published by Nintendo in the USA on February 9, 2004. Apparently The Game Designers Studio was set up to work around the exclusivity deal Square Enix had with Sony at the time. Square Enix’s history is very interesting, but not worth going into for this article. What is relevant is the knowledge that the release of this game and a few others around the same time represented a reunion between Square Enix and Nintendo.
So anyways… my girlfriend and I created our characters from a modest selection of classes and options and we were off. The world of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles is covered in a poisonous miasma but crystals provide shelter from this miasma therefore they’re essential to surviving. Large crystals protect small villages but they lose their power over time, forcing the residents to set out in caravans each year to search for myrrh. Myrrh replenishes the protective powers of the crystals and it can be found from myrrh trees which unfortunately are located in the deepest parts of monster-filled dungeons.
When we’d enter a dungeon, we’d immediately have to set up our command list. Attack and defend were always included, but we could select from our list of items and spells what else to include, and because we were playing on Game Boy Advances, we did this on them. All we had to do to execute a command was press the A button on the GBA. We could switch our commands by pressing the L and R buttons, which were highlighted on the TV screen near our character’s information.
We’d hack and slash our way through dungeons defeating the enemies we’d encounter. Every enemy dropped an item and we found out these were essential. Food restored our health while stones allowed us to perform magic and occasionally we’d come across a stat boosting item. We found healing stones very helpful, such as stone of cure and stone of life.
The dungeons took about twenty minutes to clear, including the bosses. The bosses were many times our character’s sizes and they were very detailed, they were also tough! They had a large amount of health and dealt a lot of damage in single blows which were sometimes hard to avoid; those healing stones came into play during boss battles. During these battles we’d delegate tasks such as healing and attacking but our communication could’ve been better. Regardless, we came out on top every time.
The one aspect of the game I remember receiving the most flak for was the chalice. Because the world is covered in a poisonous miasma, we had to carry around something to protect us at all times and the chalice that collected the myrrh we sought served this purpose. The only downside of this protection was that one of us had to carry it. So every time we ran into an enemy, the person carrying the chalice would drop it, help out fighting, and then pick it back up and we’d be on our way. I could think of other ways to remain protected instead of limiting one player, but that’s what The Game Designers Studio chose to do. This isn’t the case in single player games however as there’s a Moogle companion who carries it for you. My main grievance is it wasn’t fun being the person carrying the chalice, it’s not fun being limited.
Besides the chalice limiting one player, my only other gripe with the game at the moment is the inability of the game to pause when one of us would switch to our GBA screen. Since our GBA contained our menus, changing our command list had to be done through it. This wasn’t a problem with the exception of boss battles, but I guess the workaround is to be totally prepared beforehand.
My girlfriend and I played for two hours and by the end of our session we had finished the first year. The hack and slash combat was easy to grasp although getting a three-hit combo (the max) was kind of tough to manage. Besides serving as a controller, the GBA basically hosts each player’s menus and at times, shows the brilliance of allowing each player to manage their stuff without hindering everyone else. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles still looks really good all these years later and I like the art style; I suppose it’s a reimagining of classic 2D RPGs with modern technology. One of my favorite things about the game so far has been the soundtrack. The composer utilized medieval and Renaissance instruments and it sounds unlike anything I can think of. Truth be told, it made me think of Ireland and The Hobbit. It’s a simple hack and slash game but thanks to the cooperative play and link connectivity, it’s piqued my interest and we’re going to continue playing it.
September 14, 2011
BloodRayne: Betrayal is a side-scrolling hack and slash game aiming to reboot the BloodRayne series. I personally remember the series pretty well. I’ve only played a smidgen of the first game but I remember it and its sequel receiving mixed reviews. BloodRayne: Betrayal was developed by a different studio however and it garnered a lot of positive prerelease buzz and after playing the demo I can see why.
I’m not sure how much the plot is related to the previous games, but the demo contained two stages that had me fighting to reach a castle. An army was trying to get to it, but they weren’t going to be able to handle the occultist enemies so they called in Rayne.
The game looked phenomenal. The animation was really slick and the graphics were dark but pretty. The same goes for the soundtrack. There were a lot of sad piano riffs and a lot of epic rock mixed with orchestral instruments.
I hacked and slashed my way through a few different types of enemies and tons of them. The stages were pretty long (each about fifteen minutes) which gave me plenty of time to experiment with combos. The action was fast-paced and open to combos, but for the majority of the demo I simply button mashed. I was graded at the end for my score and I got an F, really terrible. It seems like the game is going to require a lot of time to master the combat and receive really good scores. Regardless, I had a fun time cutting up bad guys by button mashing.
BloodRayne: Betrayal was super gory. As I cut through bad guys, blood would fly everywhere. And when they were stunned, I could suck their blood to refill my health bar, a very cool feature. I enjoyed plowing through my enemies, even though I wasn’t doing it very well. But as I did with Devil May Cry 4, it might be fun to replay to improve my skills. I was surprised at the production values of the game. The graphics and the soundtrack were really good, as was the combat. It seems like a really intense side-scrolling hack and slash game. It was developed by WayForward and published by Majesco for Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network last week.
August 1, 2011
No More Heroes: Heroes’ Paradise is an enhanced port of the 2008 Wii game No More Heroes. Originally developed by Grasshopper Manufacture and the notorious Goichi Suda (Suda51), the game was a vulgar, outrageous action game that was actually really good. Heroes’ Paradise was developed by feelplus as they were being absorbed into AQ Interactive. Heroes’ Paradise is set to be published by Konami for the PlayStation 3 on August 16, 2011.
While No More Heroes utilized the Wii Remote only, Heroes’ Paradise can be played using the PlayStation Move or a DualShock 3. Lacking a Move myself, I was only able to play the demo using the DualShock 3.
Playing with a controller was not ideal, but I grew used to it by the end of the demo. My major qualm is with the finishing moves. When an enemy’s health bar is depleted, an arrow pops up and if I had a Move I would swing it in the direction of the arrow. Using a controller I instead had to press down on the right analog stick and then move it in the direction of the arrow. Coupled with pressing L2 to lock onto enemies, this was a little awkward. Playing with a Move seems like a necessity.
Heroes’ Paradise will contain many additions over NMH. A few bosses and side-jobs from No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle will be added, as well as a score attack mode. And there are some changes to the original formula too. Special attacks can be saved instead of automatically activating. There has been some streamlining done to the side-jobs as well. I’m not sure if they fixed the awful handling of Travis’ motorcycle however…
With the changes and additions in No More Heroes: Heroes’ Paradise, it looks to be the ultimate version of No More Heroes. However, having done everything there was to do in NMH and No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, I don’t feel like there’s enough difference to warrant my purchase. Heroes’ Paradise will be just as pompous and fun as it was in 2008, and if you haven’t played NMH check it out, but only with a PlayStation Move.
July 5, 2011
Devil May Cry 4 is a crazy action game. Developed and published by Capcom in 2008, DMC4 saw a change in the series, namely the protagonist. Everything else has apparently stayed the same however. The plot is utterly ridiculous and much of the plot is outlandish. There are two hours of cutscenes in the game that progress this crazy plot. But the gameplay itself is fun. It was a little much to handle early on, but after some time with the combat system, I’ve learned how to battle effectively, and more importantly, look good doing so.
The plot in Devil May Cry 4 is relatively easy to follow and not too complex, although at some point I began to lose interest and cared more about just getting to the action. I played as Nero, a young man who, at first, begins fighting for the Order of the Sword, a cult like religion, but later on develops new motives. Demons are the scourge in Devil May Cry 4and boy, there are plenty of them. As a character, Nero came off as whiney, or maybe more naïve than anything.
Strangely enough, you also get to play as Dante, the previous protagonist from the Devil May Cry games. With this being my first DMC game, I had no previous relationship with Dante as a character so it wasn’t that big of a deal for me. Dante turned out to be, like Nero, very cocky, but much surer of what he was doing, he sounded like he had a plan from the start. Both were very full of themselves, but when it came time to fight, they’re both supremely able to deal with the situation at hand.
I thought the combat was fun, and as it progressively got more complex, I progressively got better. Even as I replay the game now I am still noticing an improvement. The action centers around looking good as you defeat enemies. As I battled it out with the various demons and bosses, I built up my combo meter. By mixing up combos and weapons I was able to increase the combo meter and use these points to unlock new skills and abilities.
Both Dante and Nero have swords and guns at their disposal, but unique to Nero is the Devil Bringer. Nero’s right arm can extend to grab enemies, which creates quicker, more frantic combat; this ability also comes into play for platforming and puzzles.
For an action title, there is quite a lot of platforming and puzzles. My initial response to these breaks in the action was to keep them out and let the game be solely action, but thinking about it more, the puzzles added a nice break, something different, and the right amount of different. It’s not like there are tons of puzzles, just a few, and the platforming goes along with the level progression. This diversity makes Devil May Cry 4 a more rounded experience; there is however, sometimes too little action, namely in levels which you play as Dante.
You begin playing as Dante because something happens to Nero, and Dante backtracks through the levels that Nero went through. As a result there isn’t much to do, you’re just passing by. There could’ve been way more enemy encounters in these levels, as they stand, they’re filler. Also somewhat annoying, you fight the main bosses three times. I remember when Devil May Cry 4originally came out and everybody cried about that, and while by the third time I was burned out, I didn’t think it was too bad. I felt I did better against them with each encounter, much like I did with the rest of the game when replaying it.
Having this character change is jarring though. Here I have spent a few hours learning Nero, figuring out techniques and combos that I like, and all of sudden I begin controlling a character who plays quite differently. The beginning levels and most of them for that matter, with Dante are a breeze and this gave me ample time to figure Dante out, having played previous Devil May Cry games probably would’ve assisted as well. But, the game throws you back into the shoes of Nero towards the end, and while this is again jarring, it doesn’t take long to get back into Nero.
Since Devil May Cry 4 isn’t too long, replaying it is a fair proposal. All the points, orbs and items that were earned previously stayed with me, giving me a large advantage starting over on a harder difficulty. The combat system progressively gets more complex and my skills and techniques have consistently gotten better.
While it may have been complicated at first, now that I know the combat system, it’s really fun. I look forward to enemy encounters and after each, I feel like I did a good job at managing attacks and crowds. I’ve also noticed that I’ve improved from earlier attempts; at the end of each level you are graded and with each new attempt, I usually fare better than before, of course I do have more tricks up my sleeve, but it’s still one of the best times I’ve had replaying a game.
While it’s not necessary, it’s usually good to think why we play video games and why we play the ones we do. In the case of Devil May Cry 4, it frees me from this, sometimes dull, reality and allows me to experience something I’ll never experience in this life. DMC4 has an unrealistic story and over-the-top action, but it’s an experience that I thoroughly enjoyed, and will continue to do so on multiple playthroughs.
DMC4 has a story that I started to care less about it, but it was exciting and fun to watch the cutscenes. The action in DMC4 was over-the-top, complex, and ultimately, fun; I feel like I’m consistently getting better at the game, and it continues getting fun. While I don’t know what I’m missing having never played another Devil May Cry game, I found Devil May Cry 4 to be an over-the-top and outlandish action game.