September 30, 2011
Before they were known for the Disgaea series, Nippon Ichi Software developed a puzzle video game for the PlayStation back in 1996. Jigsaw Madness was published in the USA by budget publisher XS Games in 2002 and when I say it’s a puzzle game, I literally mean you put together jigsaw puzzles.
In regular old jigsaw mode I tried completing puzzles as fast as I could, with the help of up to three other players, if I had a multi-tap… and three other people who wanted to play a jigsaw video game. There were plenty of puzzles, 150 to be exact so should someone be seriously interested in this game, there’s ample content. Most of the puzzles I played seemed fitting with the theme of puzzle design: they had a lot of colors and plenty of objects.
Besides the puzzle itself, I had many options that affected the difficulty of the puzzles. Most importantly I could decide on how many pieces that puzzle should be comprised of: 24 pieces, 96 pieces, or 150 pieces; naturally the more pieces, the longer the puzzle took. I could also choose whether the pieces were in the correct position or if I had to rotate them. Another option that amped up the difficulty was if I wanted to view the puzzle piece outlines on the uncompleted puzzle.
The reason I pulled this game off the shelf however was to try it out with a friend; but I couldn’t find two others or a multi-tap, dang. We played a handful of rounds of the game’s competitive multiplayer. There are two modes and they’re only available for two players. In the first mode we tried to complete three puzzles faster than our opponent, simple enough. The second mode was a little more challenging; we attempted to capture more puzzle pieces than the other guy. To capture pieces we had to surround them, and the results from this mode were always up in the air until the end.
One very cool thing about the multiplayer was the items we could use. With each puzzle piece we placed correctly, we’d fill up a bar on the screen. As it filled up more items became available to use. There were a few dastardly items too. Reversing our opponent’s controls, speeding up their controls, blacking out the images on the pieces; depending on which side of the item we were on, it was frustrating or hilarious.
I’m not really sure what the appeal of a jigsaw video game is (or was) but for what it’s worth, Jigsaw Madness is a good game. There’s plenty of content there for those who are interested, but playing with a friend is where it’s at. Whether you’re working together or against each other, it’s a unique video game experience.
July 8, 2010
That Grandia was released recently on the PlayStation Network is a coincidence to my play through of the game. I had purchased it earlier in the year and finally got around to playing it, coincidentally it was released on the PSN a week or so later so this review is relatively timely. Prior to my play through of Grandia, my only other experience with the series was a play through of Grandia II on the Dreamcast which I remember loving, but I’m unsure if I finished it. Personally I’m a fan of more action-orientated RPGs and Grandia is one of, if not the best.
Grandia opens up in a somewhat bustling port town and quickly introduces the player to Justin and Sue, two young kids who are playful and not very serious. Nevertheless Justin is intent on becoming an adventurer like his father and Sue would follow Justin anywhere so she’s up for it as well. While the initial premise for the game is one that is often used, the game’s story gets deeper as Justin and crew learn of a mysterious ancient civilization that once perished. As they search for this ancient civilization they run into trouble with an army lead by a power monger and go through a few non-permanent party members. The story is very light and comedic, with an overarching sense of seriousness.
Like I said earlier, Grandia is more action-orientated than a traditional turn-based RPG; however this element of control is kind of a façade as the battles are ultimately a turn-based affair. In a dungeon you can see any enemy before battling, as opposed to random encounters; once you’ve run into an enemy or vice versa, you’re shifted into a battle scene. Along the bottom of the screen is a meter that shows icons representing your party members and all enemies; the icons move from left to right until one hits the command point. Here the battle will pause and you can tell that party member what to do. There is still a bit of time before they enact whatever you told them to do and this allows for strategy and planning as you can delay and cancel enemy moves based on when and what attack you hit them with.
There are many options when in battle: normal attacks, critical attacks which delay or potentially cancel depending on when landed, special moves, magic and items. One of the more interesting, and addicting, elements of battling is that every special move and magic attack has its own level that increases as you use it. The characters level relatively slowly but having all of these moves that are going up frequently gave a good sense of progression and feeling of accomplishment. Of course with any RPG that has magic there are elements of strengths and weaknesses but I never paid attention to this facet, probably due to my want to just level up everything, and this worked for me. The battles were fast-paced and fun, I looked forward to battling every enemy and leveling up many different things made me not want to skip out on fights.
The soundtrack, like the story, was lighthearted; many of the tracks were quirky, with unusual sounds and upbeat tempos, matching the game’s tone. There were a few standout tracks that I really enjoyed listening to and I can’t say there were any I disliked. The voice acting on the other hand was quite poor. The voice acting was infrequent throughout the game and when there was any, what the characters said, would never seem to match the tone of the situation at that moment. Grandia is set a 3D world, with characters, buildings and other objects being made of 2D sprites. This mixture of old and new (at the time) graphics give it a feeling reminiscent of the “golden age” of the JRPG, while still progressing technologically. I’ve already mentioned that the game’s story and soundtrack were lighthearted and fun, and the look of the game matches. Grandia is set in a colorful world with interesting character designs and locales.
Grandia cost me fifteen dollars and I put fifty-plus hours into it, and had fun the majority of the time. If you’re someone like me, who likes owning a physical copy of your games and having the chance to look through the manual, I’d recommend seeking out a copy of Grandia rather than purchasing it off of the PSN, but maybe do that as well to support it! Grandia’s manual is robust, and while much of it is explaining relatively basic mechanics of the game, which if you haven’t played a Grandia title will be very beneficial, I did get stuck on a boss and consulting it did help me.
I loved Grandia. It’s quickly become one of my favorite JRPGs and even after I beat it, I can imagine wanting to play more to level up the rest of my party’s stats. It’s a long game with rare feelings of tediousness and overall, it was a lighthearted, adventurous romp through a colorful world, which is a great escape from the current market of more adult, serious games.