Category Archives: PlayStation 2

Star Ocean: Till the End of Time [PlayStation 2] – Review

Star Ocean Till the End of Time

About this time last year, I decided to begin playing the Star Ocean series in anticipation of the release of Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness. After completing the PlayStation Portable remakes of the first two games, I finally got around to playing Star Ocean: Till the End of Time on the PlayStation 2, the third entry (discounting the Japan only Game Boy Color release Blue Sphere). Developed by tri-Ace and published by Square Enix in the United States on August 31, 2004, it’s well-regarded among many RPG fans. Conceptually, the series has always been ambitious, but I feel it was with this release that the developers were able to execute their vision in an overwhelmingly successful manner. Continue reading Star Ocean: Till the End of Time [PlayStation 2] – Review

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty [PlayStation 2] – Review

 

Metal Gear Solid 2 Sons of Liberty - Title Card

It’s been about a month since Jeff and I completed Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Generally, I try and write about a game within a few days of completing it but this game wound up provoking so many mixed emotions for me. It’s left me awestricken in many ways, some good and some bad. This is a game that’s often touted as the first postmodern video game, and while I’m too much of a dullard to fully comprehend this statement, the way my own opinion has been split in so many ways is indicative of its provocative nature. It’s a game I admire and disdain at the same time, and I’ll try my best to detail some of the major reasons why.

Metal Gear Solid 2 Sons of Liberty - Tanker
Stealthily eliminating foes was the way to go.

Like our recent playthrough of Metal Gear Solid, this wasn’t my first experience with this game. I originally played it a couple of years after its release and recall thinking the world of it then. As a sequel, the narrative subverts most preconceived notions of what to expect, and I think high school John really got a kick out of that. As an adult, I still find that fascinating, perhaps more so now, especially having directly completed its predecessor. One of the most notable ways Kojima did this was through a bait-and-switch of the protagonist.

While the first hour or so of the game stars Solid Snake, as one would expect, the true star of the game is Raiden. As a character, he’s anything like Solid Snake, the gruff, self-assured action-movie hero one expects in a game like this. Instead, Raiden is supposed to represent the player, a novice whose preparations for the big time constituted training in virtual reality. These preparations leave him undoubtedly skilled, but not with a mindset capable of being successful in the ways Solid Snake has been previously. His lack of confidence was grating to witness, although his character arc climaxed with my impression of him notching up a little bit.

Metal Gear Solid 2 Sons of Liberty - Dragging.jpg

The story of Metal Gear Solid may have grown convoluted but it doesn’t hold a candle to anything on display here. At its most basic, this game centers on Snake and Otacon’s quest for Metal Gear nonproliferation and Raiden’s journey to discover himself. Then about a dozen layers are added on top of those and any further comprehension requires extensive notetaking and periods of downtime to digest the events of the lengthy and frequent cutscenes. The breakdown between actually playing the game and watching it was somewhat jarring, although I did enjoy watching more than playing. Maybe I feel that way because the time I had to develop my stealth and combat skills was squashed between lengthy conversations that took me out of the experience? Either way, I felt my performance was less impressive compared to the previous game.

Due to narrative reasons that are mind-blowing, the events of the game are purposefully similar to the Shadow Moses Incident and wind up serving as little more than a test to creating a solider equal to Solid Snake. Pulling the strings is a shadow organization known as the Patriots. Already in control of the United States (every election has been a sham and most major government officials are representatives of the organization) they’re seeking control of the flow of digital information now. A new Metal Gear was designed and the AI contained within, GW, is the construct to achieve their goal. There are about another dozen crucial characters and their allegiances and double crosses become confusing narrative fodder. Thankfully I did take detailed notes but even so, I remain unclear on many things and feel another playthrough is necessary to really comprehend everything. Nonetheless, the narrative was the freshest aspect of this game and it was unpredictable at every point.

Metal Gear Solid 2 Sons of Liberty - Raiden
Raiden was a tough character to like.

Likewise, the depth found in the gameplay has also been drastically increased. The increased AI is no joke; no longer do guards make buffoonish decisions when catching a glimpse of Snake in a box. Rather, they call reinforcements more often than not and send in additional soldiers to “clear” an area, searching in most nooks and crannies. It felt like setting off an alert resulted in many more mission failed screens compared to the previous game. I want to say in addition to the more stringent AI, the alerts lasted longer too. Frequently, I would throw Raiden or Snake in the line of fire just to get a quick reset instead of hiding for the few minutes it would take for things to cool down. This resulted in a less enjoyable gameplay experience. It’s also one of the reasons I’d like to replay the game again, just to take my time and devote all my focus to remaining stealthy and see if my performance and enjoyment increase.

The gameplay improvements are not relegated solely to stealth actions. Gunplay received an overhaul in the form of first-person shooting. First-person shooting provided a greater level of accuracy when eliminating enemy threats, and provided some fun when taking them by surprise. Individual body parts could be targeted, including the ability to shoot the radios an enemy may call for reinforcements with. This viewpoint was only useful in specific cases though as the character would remain locked in position – the game couldn’t be entirely played like a first-person shooter. It was a smart addition nonetheless and added a further layer of complexity to approaching a situation.

Metal Gear Solid 2 Sons of Liberty - Precision
With first-person shooting, the level of precision allowed increased immensely. Shooting soldiers, or glass bottles, in specific locations yielded different outcomes.

Like its predecessor, there were many great set piece scenes with most of them revolving around the varied boss fights. Again, there was a rogues’ gallery of bad guys to defeat and each encounter was a unique experience. I can’t think of any being down-to-earth showdowns; for instance, Raiden battling a roller-skating mad bomber of sorts or his showdown with a small force of towering Metal Gears. The set pieces extended beyond cinematic fights though, including one particularly frustrating platforming section. One section in particular ate our lunch, seeing us retry twenty or so times. Raiden was forced to navigate a narrow strip of piping across a body of water and the various obstacles highlighted why such a section didn’t jive with the super responsive character movements.

Metal Gear Solid 2 Sons of Liberty - Boss Fight
By the end of the game, Raiden had been redeemed in my eyes, proving he could hang tough.

What do I think of this game? The narrative is bold, but tough to follow. I want to replay and reread my notes to try and piece everything together. I didn’t much care for Raiden although I felt he was redeemed by the end; for a deeper analysis that I agree with (and reasoning why this game is postmodern), read this. The gameplay split my opinion the most. I like the improvements, even though the increased AI resulted in a tougher game with more frustrations. Again, it’s another reason I’d like to replay, in order to have a more enjoyable experience. As it stands, it was enjoyable seeing what happened in the game, less so to actually play. I still think the original is unsurpassed as a pure video game or piece of entertainment. I would agree that this game is incredibly bold and deserves most every ounce of praise; it just wasn’t as fun to play.

Random Game #37 – Gran Turismo 4 [PlayStation 2]

Gran Turismo 4

When you have a video game collection like mine, it can be hard to play all of the games. This is especially true when additions are made on an almost weekly basis. Still, I appreciate nearly every game I’ve accumulated for this reason or that. In the hopes of improving my writing through continuous effort and promoting ongoing learning of these games, I’m going to compose brief, descriptive articles.

This was the first brand new game I purchased for the PlayStation 2. I can still remember so clearly walking into the newly opened GameStop in my town and picking this game up. It had to have been six months to a year after release as it was about thirty dollars, if memory serves. This was the first “major” simulation racing game I played. I was enveloped in the experience as a result and spent so much time playing, unlocking car after car. That was one of the things that kept me hooked. Since I grew up on Pokémon, I can dig collecting, and Gran Turismo is one of those series where there’s an immense amount of cars to collect. I didn’t fully complete it, and I daydream about returning to it, almost instead of trying my hand at one of its sequels. This will remain a collection of some of my fondest PS2 memories.

Gran Turismo 4 was developed by Polyphony Digital and published by Sony Computer Entertainment. It was released for the PlayStation 2 in North America on February 22, 2005, following the original December 28, 2004 Japanese release. As is the case with every title in the series currently, its development was overseen by Kazunori Yamauchi. Also, in keeping with tradition, this game was subject to many delays. That being said, no one can dispute the quality of the final product.

Random Game #30 – Ridge Racer V [PlayStation 2]

Ridge Racer V

When you have a video game collection like mine, it can be hard to play all of the games. This is especially true when additions are made on an almost weekly basis. Still, I appreciate nearly every game I’ve accumulated for this reason or that. In the hopes of improving my writing through continuous effort and promoting ongoing learning of these games, I’m going to compose brief, descriptive articles.

There was a time when it wasn’t a PlayStation launch without a Ridge Racer game. The series’ peak was arguably confined to the era of the first PlayStation, but this game is also very well regarded. The only games in the series I’ve spent a great deal of time with are this game’s predecessor and successor. I have played this game maybe once. I’m interested to play it more but I don’t believe there’s a ton to do. This was a launch title for the PlayStation 2 and I would bet the development was constrained due to the impending launch of the system. I still get a kick out of reading OPM and PSM during this game’s preview cycle and reading the writers’ praise for the graphics though.

Ridge Racer V was developed and published by Namco. It was available for the PlayStation 2’s launch in all three major video game markets, which means it was available in North America on October 26, 2000. One cool unlockable is the ability to play as Pac-Man and his ghost enemies.

Random Game #8 – Midway Arcade Treasures 3 [PlayStation 2]

Midway Arcade Treasures 3When you have a video game collection like mine, it can be hard to play all of the games. This is especially true when additions are made on an almost weekly basis. Still, I appreciate nearly every game I’ve accumulated for this reason or that. In the hopes of improving my writing through continuous effort and promoting ongoing learning of these games, I’m going to compose brief, descriptive articles.

The Midway Arcade Treasures series was a great batch of compilations. The three releases on the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube compiled around 60 arcade games spanning 20 years. The third game differed from the previous two as it focused on a single genre – racing games. A majority of the games didn’t resonate with me as they were classic top-down racers. I can appreciate them, and enjoy them in multiplayer, but my focus was honed in on two titles – Hydro Thunder and Offroad Thunder.  These two 1999 releases were the epitome of what arcade racing games were at that point – flashy, fast, and fun. Completely unlike Race Drivin’

Midway Arcade Treasures 3 was released in North America on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox on September 26, 2005 and on the GameCube exactly one month later – October 26, 2005. The individual games were primarily developed by Atari Games and Midway Games, although there are some other studios in the mix. The ports were handled by Digital Eclipse and the game was published by Midway.

Castlevania: Lament of Innocence [PlayStation 2] – Review

Ayami Kojima, the artist for this and many other Castlevania games is self-taught. What talent!
Ayami Kojima, the artist for this and many other Castlevania games is self-taught. What talent!

Castlevania: Lament of Innocence was released on this day eleven years ago. It marked the franchise’s return to 3D, after a pair of reportedly underwhelming N64 titles. This title also marked Koji Igarashi’s first attempt at doing so, after helming many lauded 2D Castlevanias (Circle of the Moon not among them). It didn’t surprise me when I found this game to be very similar to the GBA and DS games that I adore. The formula of those games was transposed into the 3D action-adventure genre, although at least one key gameplay element was omitted, making for a less addicting game.

But you're Death. Aren't you already dead?
But you’re Death. Aren’t you already dead?

On top of that, the combat system implemented here lacked much depth. This didn’t bother me too much, although it also didn’t encourage me to explore the full repertoire of the game’s protagonist. But, that leads to one of the facets that drew me into this game and the franchise in the first place – the stories and settings. The Gothic settings and character designs are second to none in the video game realm. This game serves as the chronological origin for the franchise so it’s a key game in that regard, and even with a small cast of characters, I found it to be entertaining and worth my while. It only took me six hours to complete, after all.

As I mentioned, the formula that the 2D Castlevanias are known for was completely lifted and applied to the 3D action-adventure genre, with a few exceptions… That formula – the “Metroidvania” formula – is often noted for its extreme backtracking tied to character development. Neither of those elements was on display in this game, much. There was a fair dose of backtracking, but this was generally confined to each unique area. Character development also wasn’t a focus.

The HUD would display much information. It wasn't overly crowded though.
The HUD would display much information. It wasn’t overly crowded though.

The castle that the protagonist was exploring served as a hub to about six other remote sections. There wasn’t much tying these stages together, besides a foreboding sense of trouble. Even the association puzzles that I infrequently came across didn’t cross boundaries. Character development of abilities wasn’t a hindrance to my exploration either, so this was somewhat unique among the more recent entries in the franchise. Exploration was limited, and very straightforward. Thankfully, the castle itself was basically a character; granted one with dissociative identity disorder.

Composed of about six distinct areas, the castle was diverse, but always atmospheric. The Ghostly Theatre, the Anti-Souls Mysteries Lab, the Garden Forgotten by Time, you might intuit their ominousness from their names. When they weren’t recycling the same hallway or large room that hosted a group of enemies, they were fun to examine. Especially when coupled with Michiru Yamane’s fantastic soundtrack. The Castlevania games are host to some of the best video game music, and this one didn’t disappoint. In fact, there were a handful of songs that I had to download to listen on their own.

Guarding was crucial to this game. It negated all physical damage dealt.
Guarding was crucial to this game. It negated all physical damage dealt.

The game’s combat lacked much ambition, especially in comparison to some of its contemporaries, namely Devil May Cry. The basic combat centered on light and heavy combos with the franchise’s traditional whip. Also at my disposal was a small amount of magical buffs and the classic sub-weapons from the original Castlevania. I was content to mash the heavy attack button through the entirety of my playthrough, and this was very effective. It didn’t have to charge up much and the increased damage dealt was always worth the effort.

I refrained from using magical buffs, as I only had access to one until I was near completion. Plus, I didn’t find the one I had too helpful. On the flip side, the sub-weapons were a highlight. Four of the five were directly from the original Castlevania, but they were more than a nostalgic throwback. They provided many opportunities to deal ranged damage, and each had many variations. These variations were fun to experiment with and allowed me the opportunity to explore that aspect of the combat system, unlike the lackluster whip combos that were gradually learned.

On the whole, the game's difficulty curve was fair. Maybe a little easy, but there were some tough spots too.
On the whole, the game’s difficulty curve was fair. Maybe a little easy, but there were some tough spots too.

What made this game less addicting than its handheld brethren was the omission of any role-playing elements. I’m specifically thinking of Aria of Sorrow, where the player character could level up and equip a plethora of weapons. There was nothing like that in Lament of Innocence – and the infrequent health/heart boosts don’t count; nor do the three other whips. Instead, any sort of character development was done strictly though the combat system, which as I mentioned, lacked depth outside of the sub-weapons. RPG elements were commonplace in the franchise at this point, so I have to wonder if their omission had to do with the transition to 3D or a focus on simplicity for the origin story?

Lament of Innocence serves as the origins for the franchise, or it did before Lords of Shadow. I believe that’s another “universe” however. Taking place in 1094, the game sets up the eternal struggle between the Belmont family line and Dracula. The amount of exposition was minimal on the whole, with lots at the beginning and end, but little in the middle. The cast of characters was also small, but each is given much screen time as a result. I have nothing but praises for the narrative, definitely a highlight, and well worth experiencing for fans of the franchise.

The cross was one of the sub-weapons.
The cross was one of the sub-weapons.

Most of the narrative was told through dialogue between Leon Belmont and Rinaldo Gandalfi. The former was the protagonist, obviously, while the later aided those who sought to defeat Walter Barnhard, the vampire antagonist. Leon entered Walter’s immense castle in an attempt to rescue his betrothed, Sara Trantoul. It initially seems as though Walter captured Sara to draw a foe into his castle – to hunt Leon, more or less – but in a twist, it’s revealed that he was being used by a surprising character, forcing the Belmont family into a future of vampire hunting.

Well, now you've done it Leon.
Well, now you’ve done it Leon.

Castlevania: Lament of Innocence proved to be a solid effort at transitioning the franchise into 3D, again. I was disappointed by some of the gameplay elements, but enjoyed others. The combat system on the whole was a little dull, although the sub-weapons were a nostalgic callback, and fun to experiment with. Exploration was also a little dull, despite the castle’s diverse composition. The lack of much RPG influence was perhaps my biggest knock against this game, but I still enjoyed my time with it. Perhaps due most of all to the well told story and mysterious cast of characters. Castlevania: Lament of Innocence is a worthwhile adventure for fans of the franchise or genre, but it’s not the best of either.

Grandia III [PlayStation 2] – Review

Finally, I've gotten around to playing Grandia III.
Finally, I’ve gotten around to playing Grandia III.

Wow! I just went back and read the reviews I wrote for the previous games I’ve played in the Grandia series – Grandia, II, and Xtreme. The grammatical errors and poor consideration for the paragraphs is awfully humbling. I completed Grandia III this week so hopefully I can construct a better review this time around. It sounds like I generally enjoyed the lot, and made mention of their narratives, characters, and gameplay. I’ll attempt to do the same here, albeit, better. Like its predecessors, it was developed by Game Arts, although it was published for the PlayStation 2 by Square Enix in 2006.

Magic was broke up into four elemental affinities.
Magic was broke up into four elemental affinities.

Yuki, a teenager with a passion for flying airplanes is the primary protagonist, and the element of flight plays a large part in the narrative, at least early on. Before too long though, the greater narrative kicks in. This, after Yuki and his mother Miranda encounter Alfina, another teenager, although one who’s able to communicate with the guardians of their world. Emellious, her twin brother shares this ability but, disillusioned, he seeks to destroy the guardians and revive Xorn, an evil guardian who he believes will bring about a world of crystalline harmony. As a result, Alfina is on the run from his henchmen.

As the narrative unfolded over the forty hours I spent with the game, the element of love kept appearing. Indeed, love no matter what the circumstance was the moral of Grandia III. It was illustrated in many instances, but no more powerful than the love Alfina had for Emellious, despite his actions. Up to their final confrontation, Alfina’s unyielding love for Emellious was the key to the protagonists’ eventual success. In the final cutscenes and battle, this aspect grew cheesy and I wouldn’t have been surprised if “All You Need Is Love” began playing over the credits.

There was a world map, but it was barely seen.
There was a world map, but it was barely seen.

What drew me to the series originally was the fast-paced battle system, and this game has the best in the series.  The battle system is turn-based at its core but the leverage I was given in my actions and the quick pace do much to make it entertaining. In regards to the previous games, the only addition is the aerial combo. They didn’t amount to much extra damage, but were fun to strive for. Like in previous games, I used all of the magic and special attacks that were available to me; this, because they improved through their use, or improved correlating stats of the characters. Even having to grind levels for a few hours wasn’t so bad. In fact, I could trust the CPU-controlled characters enough to play a few Game Boy games during battles.

On-field enemies are still the route to battles.
On-field enemies are still the route to battles.

Grandia III is an expertly crafted JRPG. The narrative was entertaining enough to keep me interested, although it contained plenty of genre clichés. Some of the characters were cardboard cutouts from other games in the genre, heck even from earlier entries in the series. And the presentation of the struggle between good and evil was very simple. But the battle system is one of the genre’s best. The fast-paced nature made it feel more like a real-time battle system and I can’t get enough of those. Coupled with the continual stat and gear improvements that the genre is known for, it proved to be a worthwhile journey.