The most notable aspect of Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu is that it marked a first for the Batman franchise: the first time a major character was debuted in a video game. It has been nine years since the game’s release though, and I’m not aware of the villain Sin Tzu gaining much traction; I mean, I’ve only ever heard of him in the context of this video game, albeit, I’m not especially well versed in the Batman universe. Debuting in a mediocre beat ‘em up probably didn’t help his chances at stardom though.
Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu is an Ubisoft Montreal developed, Ubisoft published beat ‘em up from 2003. It was released for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, and Game Boy Advance, and while I only played the GameCube version, I’m sure the PS2 and Xbox versions are identical. My friend and I played through what I believe constitutes the first quarter of the game, and I speak for both us when I say Rise of Sin Tzu was underwhelming.
The game revolves around on the eponymous hero defending Gotham City from the eponymous villain. Sin Tzu has formed an alliance with Scarecrow, Clayface, and Bane and they’re wreaking havoc. With the assistance of Robin, Batgirl, and Nightwing, Batman sets out to defend Gotham City from these baddies. Although there are four heroes, the game only supports co-operative play for two, a glaring omission. On the bright side, those two extra players won’t be subjected to the tepid gameplay.
Each hero had slightly different stats and had a wealth of combos to execute, yet I was content to just mash the punch or kick button. The combos were differentiated by timed button presses, although they weren’t starkly different. Special moves could be unlocked using earned points which could also be spent on bonus features like toys or comic book covers. My friend and I played through the first quarter of the game, toppling Scarecrow, and besides the lame combat, the bland level design and poor camera left us unfulfilled.
Stages lasted about ten minutes and tasked us with fighting through groups of Scarecrow’s henchmen. Opposition was light early on but they eventually began using Scarecrow’s gas on us. It affected the camera, making it very wavy, but not problematic like the occasional event of the camera getting hung up on a corner. Still the biggest detriment to our enjoyment was the bland level design. We’d plod down unchanging Gotham City streets, encountering groups of henchmen, but no real excitement. This was compounded by the weak combat and the drab graphics.
Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu is a mediocre beat ‘em up that will likely only be remembered for debuting a character into the franchise.
Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean is a role-playing game released in late 2004 for the GameCube. It was co-developed by Monolith Soft (known for the Xenosaga series and the recently released Xenoblade Chronicles) and tri-Crescendo (Eternal Sonata) and published by Namco. The game is a story of revenge for Kalas, the primary protagonist but it also focuses on his (and his compatriots) quest to save the world. I didn’t find the story or characters interesting, but what’s exceptional about the game is its card-based battle system, which could’ve been its biggest liability.
Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean takes place in a fantastical world, a world where landmasses float in the sky, oceans are a thing of legend, and the human inhabitants have wings. The young adult Kalas is on a mission of revenge as he searches for the murderer of his brother and grandfather. He believes the person responsible is a soldier in the imperialistic Alfard Empire. The game begins as he awakens, confused but not suffering from amnesia, in a remote village. Soon after this point, he meets Xelha, a kind but mysterious girl who believes the Empire is on the verge of unleashing a great evil. Although Kalas believes he has no need for her, they join together as their goals run a similar course.
At the point I finished (about a dozen hours in), I had met a third party member: a rural fisherman named Gibari. He was beefed up and helpful in the rural town I found him in, but he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. Beyond those three, I can’t comment on anyone else as I didn’t sink enough time into the game to meet anyone else. After joining up with Xelha, I visited another town or two and trekked through a few enemy-riddled areas, but the main focus was the routine run-ins with the Empire, which helped narrow the protagonists’ motives.
I don’t really have an opinion on the general story because I only played it for a dozen or so hours, but in that time span I already knew that I didn’t like Kalas. He was off-putting from the get go with his lack of respect for others and rudeness. Of course, naïve characters are the norm for role-playing games of this ilk; I’m sure that over the course of the estimated sixty hours of gameplay, he would mature and grow as a person. A lot of my opinion of him (and others) was based on the poor voice acting and that didn’t help in forming my opinion. It’s not necessarily that characters over or under act, instead my grievance lies with the quality of the audio – it sounds like I’m listening to people in a sound booth, as if whatever audio mixing that would remove this aura wasn’t done.
On the back of the game’s box is a quote from Nintendo Power: “It’s possibly the most beautiful GCN title ever made,” which I’d have to agree with. The game’s locales are like paintings that you walk around in, or like the PlayStation 1 era Final Fantasy games; they feature a fixed camera perspective with no player control of it. The pre-rendered backgrounds of the towns are intricately detailed and will often have animated bits and pieces, but because I wasn’t able to control the camera, navigating these areas was sometimes less than great; for instance when Kalas would walk into the background and shrink to signify distance from the camera. This isn’t a problem with Baten Kaitos, it’s just a style that I don’t prefer.
What makes Baten Kaitos unique compared to other RPGs is its reliance on Magnus (playing cards) for items, attacks, equipment, and just about anything else. Each character had a deck of cards that they used in battles. As they leveled up, the amount of cards they could put into it, as well as their hand size in battles grew.
Battles revolved around each character’s deck of Magnus. A good deck would contain a mixture of offensive, defensive, and healing cards that were suited to take advantage of enemies’ elemental weaknesses. In battles, characters would have a hand of cards and I’d try my best to link them together to create optimal attacks and defensive maneuvers. I found that if I didn’t suit my deck to each area and continually keep it fresh, I wouldn’t advance.
The Magnus weren’t just used in battles though; they were used in place of items too. Special Magnus could capture the essence of an item, say water, and I could then use that Magnus to solve a puzzle, such as putting out a fire. I had to be careful with Magnus however, as the cards would age and their properties would change. For instance, if I had a Magnus with green bananas on it, as time passed, the bananas would ripen and the card’s effect would change. This aspect of the Magnus kept me on my toes and was in some instances, annoying.
Card-battling games have a reputation for being obtuse, complicated, and slow-paced. Of course, they’re also known for requiring strategy, skill, and a little luck. What’s great about Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean is that it takes the best things about card-battling games: strategy in deck building, skillful combinations of cards, and a little luck of the draw, while reducing the negatives by speeding up the battle system and easing players into the extensive number of Magnus. It may not have captured my attention for too long, but damned if I didn’t absolutely enjoy its battle system.
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.
Relationships are hard work. Cooperation is a requirement. If two parties can’t work together, there is no relationship, no way to reach a desired destination. Competition has a place though and no matter the type of relationship, competition will always rear its head. While these concepts can be seen as opposites, managing them is necessary to make any relationship last. Similar to Reese’s with peanut butter and chocolate, The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventure blended these two concepts together and it’s what I’ll remember most about the game.
When my girlfriend and I began playing Four Swords Adventure I didn’t anticipate it would take so long to complete. Even with limited time, we saw it through and completed the game’s nine levels with plenty of healthy competition. Rather than the typical open, but linear format of most Zelda titles, Four Swords Adventure is broken into levels which are comprised of stages. Instead of accruing necessary items and then tackling a dungeon, each stage is a self-contained challenge combining puzzles and action.
Four Swords Adventure’s puzzles derived mostly from utilizing the four Links in a specific way. The puzzles weren’t very challenging, but I remember one in the final level which stumped us good. A lot of the mental work simply required us to position the four Links in a specific stance and then stand on a button or hit switches, not very tough stuff. Boss battles were interesting. The bosses represented a “greatest hits” of sorts, but some were slightly remixed to take advantage of the four Links and the use of the Game Boy Advance.
The game’s use of the GBA was clever, but ultimately its Achilles heel. Instead of controlling our Links with a GameCube controller, we had to plug in a GBA and use it. Whenever we’d enter into a building or a cave or what have you, that person’s Link would then be transferred to the GBA. This allowed each person to explore the screen and its contents individually while not hindering others. To play the game like this, it requires that each person have a GBA and link cable, which makes the game hard to recommend to those who don’t have at least some of these items already. Playing alone just requires a GameCube controller, no extra accessories. Without others though, the game doesn’t really merit a playthrough.
Princess Zelda and the six shrine maidens get captured by Shadow Link who leads Link to the Four Sword. When Link removes the Four Sword from its shrine he is split into four and the evil Vaati is released. As Link rescues the maidens and retrieves four special jewels, Ganon makes his presence known. The game took my girlfriend and me through many villages and we got a lot of back-story through NPCs and Kaepora Gaebora. As mentioned earlier, it was a lengthy game and well suited for bite sized sessions.
Link’s quest was familiar; rescue a bunch of something and overcome evil, but there wasn’t a detailed narrative to propel my girlfriend and I forward. Thankfully this driving force was replaced by the unique duality of the gameplay. It’s hard to recommend because of the requirements, but The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventure is a noteworthy example of games that blend cooperative and competitive gameplay, a difficult relationship to manage.
The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventure was released on GameCube in the USA on June 7, 2004. It was developed by Nintendo EAD and published by Nintendo.
It may not be at the top of everyone’s list of fun things to do, but going to Universal Studios ought to be at the very least, a memorable experience. Not everybody can have that experience though; that’d be mad expensive! Definitely more than it’d cost to pick up Universal Studios Theme Park Adventure for the GamCube, and I thought it was a very memorable game… for all the wrong reasons. Universal Studios theme Park Adventure is a dull premised game, with very poor gameplay and a lack of nearly any fun.
In Universal Studios Theme Park Adventure, you play as a nameless child who has been told by Woody Woodpecker to go and check out Universal Studios. There is an objective and an end to the game. To complete the game you must ride every ride and collect the letters that spell out Universal Studios. At the beginning there is only one ride that’s open: E.T. Adventure, and actually that’s the only ride that’s ever open. To ride any rides after you complete E.T. Adventure you must buy hats that allow unlimited access to the other rides, I would’ve liked to know that before exploring the whole park and wondering: “How do I ride these other rides?”
Once you figure that out it’s just a matter of getting enough points to buy hats, it’s not that hard, not that fun either. You earn points by completing rides, finding letters, picking up garbage around the park, as well as shaking hands with mascots. Garbage is very prevalent but it doesn’t add up. Running into the mascots happens pretty frequently and there’s no reason not to shake their hands. However getting around is a chore. You do get a map but it’s nigh impossible to make sense of it. I eventually remembered the layout from memory, but even then, I still spent too much time trying to get places.
The attractions are the meat of the game, and wow, they’re stinkers. E.T. Adventure is the first attraction, and the one that’s always open; it plays like a not fun version of Paperboy. In Jaws, you are on a boat he’s attacking; you throw barrels and crates at Jaws to prevent him from attacking. It controls terribly and the timing of button pushes doesn’t seem to fit the on-screen action. Animation Celebration is a collection of three minigames: a trivia game, a puzzle, and a game of concentration; Animation Celebration is not required to complete the game, coincidentally, it’s not fun either. Back to the Future – The Ride is a chase ride where Biff has stolen the DeLorean and you must ram it until its health is depleted, which is harder than it sounds. In Backdraft you play as a firefighter and must rescue survivors, while putting out fires in an apartment building, and I didn’t totally hate it. In Jurassic Park – The Ride you operate a laser on the back of the Jeep from the first movie, while being chased by an assortment of dinosaurs. You can charge it up or just fire away; this attraction wasn’t terrible either; it’s very reminiscent of the Sega arcade/Dreamcast game Charge ‘n’ Blast. Waterworld. Waterworld has you watching a cutscene. But wait! You can view this cutscene from five different angles. Yes, that’s right, five! It’s probably the worst looking piece of CG video you’ll ever see, and it’s pointless. Five seconds and nothing interesting happens. Lastly The Wild, Wild, Wild West is in the vein of old light-gun arcade games where you shoot at targets, here you just need to be faster than the CPU.
The majority of the attractions are straight-up, not fun, and the compliments I could muster for the others are they’re not one-hundred percent not fun. In a weird way though, I enjoyed Universal Studios Theme Park Adventure. I don’t think many people will ever play this game so the knowledge that I have about it makes it seem worth more than the knowledge I have about a game a lot of people have played. I have a soft spot for the game, I feel sorry for it. That said, it’s not a fun game and I wouldn’t recommend it.
XIII is a first-person shooter based on a Belgian comic book series started in the mid eighties that took inspiration from Robert Ludlam’s The Bourne Identity. I have never read the comic books so that isn’t what initially drew me to the game when it first came out; XIII was originally released in November of 2003. I was in love with FPSes and cel-shaded games at that time and this was a godsend. I played it probably six months after it came out and I remember liking it, but not loving it. Recently I’ve had the urge to play it again and since it’s a pretty short game I decided to go ahead and play it.
The game is centered on Steve Rowland, aka XIII, who suffers from amnesia. Apparently he has assassinated the president! Things aren’t what they initially seem as XIII globe trots to figure out if he really is the president’s assassin. Along the way he learns of The XX, a group that has ties to the assassination and which he is a member. It’s worth noting that David Duchovny does the voice work for XIII; Adam West and Eve also do voice work for key characters in the game. It’s also worth noting that they don’t do that great of a job. Adam West gives a performance that seems… like an Adam West performance, the downside of that is that I don’t view him as a serious actor, it’s simply my frame of reference for him, every time he speaks, I hear his dialogue as sarcastic. Eve’s performance wasn’t terrible but David Duchovny’s was, he doesn’t sound committed early on. My biggest problem is there isn’t a ton of exposition that these characters are involved in. Most of XIII’s dialogue consists of one-off questions or statements until the end of the game when he becomes more aware of his past, which is fine for his character but did they really need to get David Duchovny to voice him? I’m sure investing in the game would’ve been better but attaching these “high profile” celebrities probably helped sales in the short term.
Well anyways, the game is an FPS and a competent, if not boring one at that. There isn’t anything I can think of gameplay-wise that it excels at as compared to other FPSes. Nothing in particular was bad about the gunplay and action, but seeing a group of bad guys didn’t excite me, nor did I have different strategies for taking them down. This could be due to the heavy emphasis on sneaking around and a general sense of espionage. Much of the game’s levels require you to remain unseen and this sets it apart from being another “run and gun” shooter, but there is much trial and error and after a while, failing due to something minor gets old. A problem I had later on was hiding bodies. Throughout the game you have the ability to pick up and hide dead bodies, but early on you don’t need to, so towards the end when hiding bodies is a necessity, I found it hard to reprogram the way I had been playing the game up until that point. And with missions that required sneaking, it seems there were varying degrees of AI attentiveness which made it frustrating when something that worked previously, all of a sudden did not.
In gunfights the enemies never seemed lethal and I never felt that I died because they outsmarted me, only ever because they outnumbered me. Whenever I saw an enemy, I just stood in place and shot until he was dead, this method was helped by the abundance of medkits but playing on a harder difficulty would potentially require a change in strategy.
My favorite part of the game without a doubt was the art-style which was brilliant. The game holds up visually and I attribute this to the cel-shading. While nothing in the game is very detailed, the art-style helps offset this and lets everything pop. The graphics weren’t the only thing inspired by the comic book though. Whenever you get a headshot, a three part comic book panel pops up showing in detail the projectile entering the targets head; similar to this, if an enemy falls from a high location another panel comes up showing their descent. In parts that require stealth you’ll need to sneak up on enemies and when you move slowly or stop, you can see their footsteps as indicated by comic book onomatopoeias.
The last thing worth noting is the multiplayer and the exclusive modes depending on which console you purchase the game for. Anyone purchasing XIII this long after it’s come out, I imagine isn’t purchasing it for the multiplayer. It’s competent but not high on my list with friends over, but the game has bots and plenty of maps so it’s worth trying out alone. One big concern of mine is the lack of a dedicated grenade button. Throwing a grenade requires switching from a gun proper to the grenade, and this creates a different dynamic that I found unappealing for a multiplayer match.
The Xbox version (which is backwards compatible with the Xbox 360) has an exclusive mode titled Sabotage. This is a class based mode where one team plants bombs on three bases and the other team defends. The GameCube has The Hunt, which has everyone chasing around Death and shooting him to get points. With each shot he gets smaller and faster and if he touches you you’re instantly killed. The PlayStation 2 has Power Up, as well as The Hunt. Power Up plays out like a normal deathmatch except crates throughout the levels hold everything, from weapons and health to random power ups like invisibility and invulnerability. Although I didn’t play the PC version, it includes all three “exclusive” modes. Overall I found The Hunt to be the most fun and it’s something different from other games; unlike the rest of the multiplayer, this is something I want to try with friends.
XIII was a short and overall mediocre game. It ended with a sense of satisfaction although it does have a cliffhanger ending that leaves many questions unanswered, but for those dedicated enough to want closure, there’s the comic book. The art style was fantastic and while the gameplay isn’t the best, it’s competent enough to stick with it to see the end.