Nearly ten years ago, a friend and I decided to play Mansion of Hidden Souls on the Sega CD. We didn’t know anything about it, and at that point neither of us had much experience with similar first-person adventure games like Myst. The plodding movement and crude 3D pre-rendered visuals did little to entice us, but we enjoyed the emphasis on puzzle solving. If anything, it was informative to play through a style of game that was no longer in vogue, and one that showcased an early example of full-motion video. We followed it up with playthroughs of a couple similar games and have dabbled with the genre since then, albeit infrequently. One game in particular has been at the top of our to-do list for years, yet we always passed over it for one reason or another. Well the stars aligned last week, and we finally played D. Continue reading D [Sega Saturn] – Review→
When it comes to an established franchise, I find it hard to experience it in any other way than completely engrossing myself. Whether it’s soaking up each entry in a role-playing series, or binge-watching a movie franchise, I like to get the whole story from start to finish. So with the recent announcement of the fifth Star Ocean game, subtitled Integrity and Faithlessness, I’ve found myself visiting the series for the first time, and from the beginning. There’ve been plenty of opportunities for me to check the series out over the years, and I’ve owned entries for years without touching them. But, much like the dual announcements of new Guitar Hero and Rock Band releases reinvigorating my desire to play earlier entries in those series’, this one did it to the nth degree.
My first consciousness of the Star Ocean series occurred around the release of Tales of Symphonia. That seminal JRPG was one of the few on the GameCube and one of my favorites bar none. I turned to GameFAQs throughout that playthrough and the author of one FAQ in particular suggested Star Ocean: Till the End of Time so heartily, that I still remember that fact to this day. Needless to say I never checked it out (excluding a multiplayer match or two for the inaugural Game-a-Thon). Flash forward and I now own all but the most recent entry: The Last Hope. So, what better place to start than the first game?
Or truly, a remake of the first game as the western release lagged behind its Japanese debut. Star Ocean was originally released on July 19, 1996 for the Super Famicom. It didn’t make it to Western shores until the PlayStation Portable remake; First Departure was released in North America on October 21, 2008. Developed by tri-Ace, the game was the product of the studio’s collective experience making Tales of Phantasia and their love of Star Trek. It’s an action-RPG whose core elements stay true to likes of Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, but the battle system is quasi-real-time and the setting has more in common with Phantasy Star. The PSP remake appears to remain very true to the original, and with the exception of a few items, I could imagine this game being a direct port.
One of the elements that excited me the most in thinking about this series was the sci-fi setting. The ability for a lengthy RPG to fill out a world with backstory, characters, and places is a hallmark of the genre, and when that ability is buoyed by a sci-fi motif, well, let’s just say I’ve always been more interested in the future than the past. So I was disappointed when the majority of this game revolved around a fantasy setting. This was explained narratively in a way keeping true to its sci-fi background, and perhaps even by the constraints of the hardware or by the studio’s rookie nature.
Granted, this was all wrapped around the context of a sci-fi storyline and it did have its moments. The main protagonists hail from an undeveloped planet – one that the Federation (exactly what you’d think) has intentionally avoided until the inhabitants have reached their space age. So when the group is exposed to the Federation initially, there’s a lot of interesting story building that takes place. And again at the end, when the answers to the questions that have been posed throughout the game are being revealed; the sci-fi elements really sealed the deal. Plus, there’s time travel and that’s super sci-fi.
Most everything else is standard fare for the genre. I took the group from town to dungeon to town in search of this or that or whatever would progress the story. The combat system is an evolution of the real-time one pioneered in Tales of Phantasia. Instead of taking place on a 2D plane however, I controlled one of the party member’s in a 3D arena. There wasn’t a lot to fights other than mashing the attack button and maybe triggering a special attack every now and then. I was content to button mash and the lack of difficulty allowed me to breeze through the game.
I feel it was necessary for me to play this game, although I wouldn’t recommend it to others if they didn’t share my tendencies. It wasn’t a bad game, it just wasn’t that interesting. The settings offered an interesting clash, but this was mostly a fantasy game wrapped around the veneer of a sci-fi game. I found little to dislike about the combat system and could enjoy the monotonous task of mashing a button until a foe was dead, but I can’t praise it either. At roughly fifteen hours it’s the shortest JRPG I’ve played, but lengthy enough to tell a cohesive tale. Here’s hoping for a bright future.
Watch the splendor of Street Racer for the PlayStation and Super Bust-a-Move for the Playstation 2 in low-fidelity splendor! Played by none other than JohnTheGamer and Tridrakious, courtesy of just1morelevel.com!
Originally released in the fall of 1996, Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars still holds up as a fantastic point-and-click adventure game. I came to it last month with virgin eyes when I was craving a game to play on my Google Nexus 7. The director’s cut of the game was released onto Google Play in 2012, although it has appeared on many platforms since 2009. The narrative and characters were impressively crafted and the puzzle-solving gameplay was well-paced. My only complaint was the hodgepodge nature of the audiovisual qualities of the director’s cut.
Vacationing in Europe, American tourist George Stobbart witnesses the murder of a French citizen and takes it upon himself to research the tragedy. George is a self-confident, joke-cracking Californian and his conversations usually put a smile on my face. He quickly bumps into Nicole Collard, a French journalist, also interested in the murder. They cooperate and unravel a plot to revive the Knights Templar. George’s involvement came about due to happenstance and self-motivation. For Nicole, the events were personal.
The director’s cut of the game apparently includes a lot of new content. Among the additions is a lengthy introduction that stars Nicole. This segment filled in Nicole’s motivations beyond simply being a journalist. As she prepares to conduct an interview, the French diplomat who personally requested her is murdered by a costumed killer. Investigating his premises before the police arrive, she discovers that the diplomat had mysterious ties to her beloved father. More research leads her to another individual who would soon be murdered and bring about a chance encounter with George.
The ten or so hours of gameplay saw the duo explore Paris and a few nearby countries. Most of it was spent having conversations. These conversations were lengthy and necessary to digging up clues and leads. As I mentioned, the conversations George conducted with others were often humorous; if not because of his line of thought, because of people he spoke with. The other major time sink was the puzzle-solving. This entailed exploring each scene for objects to interact with and figuring out how to utilize the small inventory of items George had. Occasionally there were one-off puzzles that required translating a passage or completing a sliding puzzle as well.
George and Nicole’s journeys across Paris and the few neighboring countries they visited were conveyed solely through hand-drawn backgrounds and animations. Overall, it was an impressive-looking game. However, there were a few bits of animation that sequenced different scenes together and these were quite poor. The style calls to mind Don Bluth with shoddy animation. I feel the same about the voice-acting. In general, it’s great. Yet there are bits and pieces where the quality is noticeably worse. New to the director’s cut are hand-drawn character portraits during conversations. These were drawn by Dave Gibbons of Watchmen fame but hey, they’re just character portraits.
Now that I’ve completed Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars, I’m sad I won’t get to experience anymore of it for the first time. I honestly found the narrative and characters enthralling. The lengthy exchanges George had with others only started to wear on me when I was in the homestretch, but they were always entertaining. I found this to be a perfect tablet game and the user interface for exploring and puzzle-solving was implemented wonderfully. Some of the illustrations and animation looked poor, but in a way, those were blemishes that endeared me to the game’s age. Fantastic game!