Grandia: Day Three

When I left off yesterday I thought I was getting ready to fight a boss and that’s kind of true. Justin has a Spirit Stone from his father; it’s an ancient artifact and it opened a door that no one else managed to iin the Sult Ruins. Inside were two psychedelic rooms where I met Liete of Alent. She took Justin and Sue into outer space, or perhaps it was just an illusion. She convinced Justin to travel to the new continent to meet her. Upon exiting the area Colonel Mullen tried to capture Justin and Sue but they got away. Colonel Mullen doesn’t seem like a bad person as afterwards he burst into laughter and was happy Justin was so daring.

To get to the new continent I needed a passport; Justin and Sue learned they could get one from a partly crazy, old adventurer. I took a train to the Leck Mines, south of Parm. Once there Java, the adventurer, required they pass a test to get his passport. I traveled into the mines and explored it until I met an orc king who I subsequently defeated. Java gave them the passport and I headed back to Parm. To get to the new continent the group had to travel by ship but Justin thought Sue should stay in Parm. Justin sailed away the next day alone and without telling his mother, but she left him a note saying that she knew. After exploring the ship I found out that Sue had snuck on! Justin and Sue were back together and since she is considered a stow-away, they are required to do some manual labor.

TOTAL TIME PLAYED: 04:41:36

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Grandia: Day Two

Today I experienced the battle system for the first time. I left Parm and was heading to the Sult Ruins. Prior to this I received an invitation to visit the ruins from a curator at the Baal Museum whom Justin is friends with. To get to the Sult Ruins I had to pass through Marna Road which was full of a few bug type enemies.

The combat is very fast; most matches seemed to be over with thirty seconds. The hallmark of the Grandia series is its real-time battles. There is a meter that shows everyone in the battle, enemies included. The representative icons progress until the command point when you enter in what you want to do and then it a progresses a little more until the action point. Another staple of the series is the lack of random battles; you can see all enemies on the map.

I found a few items in Marna Road and eventually got to the Sult Ruins. Outside were the army’s equipment and a lot of soldiers, some working and some slacking. I viewed a cutscene with three female leaders who act very childish. I explored the area outside and then set foot into the ruins. I was surrounded by ancient artifacts and enemies. I proceeded two levels in to what appears to be the entrance to a boss and stopped there.

TOTAL TIME PLAYED: 02:18:42

Grandia: Day One

Similar to what I did with Seaman, which you can find here, I’m going to do a journal of my time playing Grandia. They won’t be that similar though; the nature of Seaman allowed each player to add a lot and ruminate on what was happening whereas Grandia is telling a story and I expect to add less and communicate more like an actual blog.

The game opened up in what I consider to be quite cinematic for the time. The intro cutscenes didn’t explain much but showed that the game had good production values. After the beginning cutscenes I got to control Justin and Sue, the main character and his cousin. They are early teens and most of the intro consists of me looking for objects to show up a bully/rival. The game looks pretty good, it’s in 3D and it isn’t a fixed camera game; it looks very good. The controls feel good; movement feels loose and fast, how I like it.

I explored Parm, the starting city, and learned a lot about the game and my surroundings. Justin’s family is full of explorers and that’s what he wants to do, coincidentally many ruins nearby have recently been found. The game appears to be pretty traditional story wise; this’ll be another RPG where I play as a young adventurer, following in his families footsteps. I played for a little more than an hour and was just getting ready to leave the town; haven’t fought a battle yet, which is why I’m playing Grandia. I love action RPGs and I loved Grandia II.

TOTAL TIME PLAYED: 01:13:26

Haze – Review

Probably been doctored up to look better.
Taking out Mantel soldiers as a rebel.

My first impressions of Haze were disappointing: after the initial setup for the game I get thrown into the main menu which looked like something from a last-gen game and once I’m into the actual game, I’m introduced to some stereotypical characters. Thinking about these and other lows early on upset me; I grew up with loving TimeSplitters 2 and TimeSplitters: Future Perfect and to think that Free Radical (the developers) had fallen this far since then was depressing. However, as I got farther into game, I enjoyed it more.

I’m not sure why I began enjoying it more though. An hour or so in you defect to the rebels, but the mechanics didn’t change very much, at least enough for me to think “wow, now it’s better.” I think I just lowered my expectations by then. I think a big problem with the game were the expectations for it prior to its release; they were out of proportion. When it was announced that it was a PlayStation 3 exclusive, people began to latch onto it and want it to be great, like with most console exclusive games. Once I lost the mentality that this game had to be great because it was a console exclusive, I enjoyed it more, but that’s a backhanded compliment and not to say the game isn’t good.

The gameplay, like the game overall, is decent. I thought the controls were too stiff, especially for vehicles. I do like that the game doesn’t feel super arcadey like TimeSplitters games do; even something as minor as that adds weight to the story, after all, it seems like Free Radical wanted to make a more serious game, but that’s part of why I think this game is just decent. It seems like Free Radical wanted to make a game that told a story, but the characters weren’t believable and the majority of them feel like cheap jokes on played out stereotypes. Even the main character is hard to like; Shane Carpenter rarely seems like someone who should be in the position he’s in. Throughout the game he consults everybody but himself on what to do next, all the while asking himself who he should be fighting for.

Again, probably doctored up.
An example of what it looks like when using Nectar.

I interpreted the game as being about the Iraq War. You initially fight for Mantel, a large corporation that produces Nectar, a drug that enhances their soldiers’ abilities in battle. Through some errors you begin seeing that Nectar might not be so great while learning later on that you’re in this country because the natives have begun harvesting a key ingredient in Nectar and this would be bad for Mantel’s bottom line. Taking into account that some believe the Iraq War started in part over oil, we can replace all instances of Nectar with oil and it seems close, or perhaps I’m looking too deep into it. The game does touch on some other topics: free will in a very small way, anti-drug sentiments and that people, no matter their differences, are alike.

I found Haze very enjoyable a few hours in, whether this is due to me lowering my expectations or just playing for another side I’m not sure. I only played a few minutes of the multiplayer and thought it was great that they melded it into the fiction but at this point, there aren’t enough people to make the game exciting for me to put any serious time into. Haze was a disappointment compared to the TimeSplitters games, but as an FPS, it gets the job done.

Linger in Shadows – Review

A wallpaper available on the PlayStation Store.

Linger in Shadows was my first foray into the demoscene. Prior to “playing” it, I had never heard of the concept. Basically, a small group will make a demo, that isn’t necessarily interactive, and try to squeeze as much out of the hardware as possible. My kneejerk reaction to the demoscene groups was “that’s stupid, why don’t they just work for actual game companies”, but after doing some research I found out how they’ve contributed to actual game development. Being rather large in Europe, many demosceners move onto game development at some point and space saving technologies, like procedural generation, have been tackled by demoscene groups, specifically, .theprodukkt.

Onto Linger in Shadows proper. Firstly, it’s not a game. Essentially it’s a beautiful cutscene that has some interactivity. You act like a director; you are able to pause it at almost any point and at designated spots you can move certain objects around, mess with the camera angle and at some points you may have to solve a puzzle to continue the experience, but you are never told what to do, you just fiddle around with the camera or environment.

There was a lack of narrative and exposition throughout Linger in Shadows short run time, but I liked it, it gave me room to interpret the experience however I wanted. It was very confusing the first time through but having this opaque story allowed me to dwell on it more than I would if they just told me what happened, and I can see how people would call Linger in Shadows art. And boy, is it pretty. Plastic, the demoscene group responsible, wasn’t going for a realistic look and I’m glad. Linger in Shadows is like a moving piece of art and looks hand drawn.

Calling Linger in Shadows a game is a misnomer, while it is available on the PlayStation 3 and you do pay for it, Plastic and others have been very clear that it’s not a game. Then again some people might be caught off guard by it; it’s really up to the end user to decide if it’s worth a couple of bucks and while confusing at first, I found this visually and audibly stunning experience worth a couple of bucks.

Super Stardust HD Bundle – Review

Duking it out against the second boss.

At first Super Stardust HD seems like just another dual stick shooter, and it is, but it is also a very, very solid game that is as addicting as Geometry Wars. The game has multiple modes and I started off playing the arcade mode, which has you playing through the game’s five planets. At first only one is unlocked but the rest will come as you complete them. The planets are populated with asteroids and enemies will appear in waves. There are a few types of asteroids and these different varieties add a strength/weakness element to you weapons. As you destroy the asteroids, some will drop power ups that can upgrade your weapons, add shields, ships or just points. The longer you survive, the higher your multiplier.

Endless mode and survival mode are similar in that they have you competing until you’re out of lives; the only difference is that survival mode takes place on a planet with indestructible space probes. Bomber mode takes away your weapons and leaves you with only your bombs and time attack has you completing a single planet as fast as you can. There are also a few multiplayer modes, both competitive and cooperative, and these change the formula a great deal. They are limited to local only and while I definitely prefer couch co-op to online co-op, having the competitive mode be online would’ve been nice.

It took me a few hours to play through everything and if it wasn’t for trophies and having a friend’s score to shoot for on the leader boards, I would probably be done with it, not to say the game isn’t good. But I know that as soon as my high score is toppled I will enjoy coming back and trying to retake it. This review was written with both of the game’s DLC packs, without them the game loses nearly all modes, but you can get the game and both DLC packs for fifteen dollars.

Riviera: The Promised Land – Review

US PSP Box Art
The US PSP box art.

Belonging to the list of games I was interested in when I first heard about them but never managed to play is Riviera: The Promised Land. I was interested in it when it originally came out on the Game Boy Advance solely for the fact it was an RPG. I finally got my hands on a copy, albeit the PSP version, which is probably the superior version but was not impressed by the game. I applaud the fact that the game is different than other RPGs, but I found it repetitive and boring.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before; a thousand years ago there was a war between the gods and demons. The gods weren’t able to hold their own and in desperation created Grim Angels to assist them. They were able to seal the demons away and bring peace about for a thousand years; but of course demons are beginning to come back. The main character of the game is Ein, a Grim Angel who throughout the game will learn about himself, betrayal and friendship. I found the characters to be predictable and ultimately ones I’ve played as before. Likewise the story was predictable and didn’t offer any surprises I couldn’t see coming.

Adding to the lack of surprise was the way the game progresses outside of battles. Early on you visit a town, Elendia, and for the rest of the game this becomes your home base. You travel here after each dungeon and work out the next plan of action. The dungeons are influenced by adventure games it would seem. Rather than controlling Ein directly, you enter a room and are given the option to look around, interact with objects by spending Trigger Points which are earned by performing well in battle, or move onto the next room. A set of rooms make up an area and in between each are you are given the chance to save. Looking around was vital in the sense it often netted you new items but it wasn’t always necessary to progress.

The battles are never random; the way the dungeons are laid out there will always be a group of enemies in “that” room and to progress you must fight them. Rather than equip characters with a weapon and armor, you are allowed to bring four items into battle. Not all characters can use all items so you have to plan ahead, for instance Ein is good with swords and direct attacks but if Cierra, a witch, were to use the same sword, she’d do a magic attack. Before the battle you can look at the enemies and pick your characters and items. The items have a limited number of uses, so you must also plan around this fact, however, early on you run into more items than you can hold.

Like the battles, leveling up is also unlike most RPGs. Rather than a character getting experience from enemies and leveling up, they earn experience for the item they’re using. Each time Ein uses a certain item, it gains a point of experience and once it’s maxed out, he’ll learn a special ability with that item and boost his stats. However each character has unique levels with each item, so after maxing out something with Ein, you’ll still need to max it out with another character for them to learn a special ability and get their stats boosted. Since the items have limited uses, gaining experience could be troublesome, but there is a practice mode which allows you to level up without breaking items.

Fia's turn in a fight; notice the four items she can use.

The game is completely voice acted and with the exception of one minor character I found it to be very good. My only major gripe with the VO is that a lot of the characters sound familiar, not simply their voices, but the way they act; if you’ve played a handful of RPGs, you’ve seen them before. I liked the soundtrack as well but didn’t find it particularly mind-blowing; I would recommend playing with headphones though to get the nuances in the music.

After the first few hours of getting used to the way the game is different, it became a very linear experience, completely lacking the sense of exploration and wonder I turn to in RPGs. While they tried to innovate in a few ways outside of the storytelling, it shined a spotlight on the generic tale the game wove.