Suikoden II lives up to the hype. Having heard its praises sung for years, I’ve long been interested in playing it, and the series as a whole. The recent announcement of a spiritual successor reignited my desire to jump in, and I found the first game quite enjoyable. Suikoden II though, is an improvement in almost every regard. Like its predecessor, the developers adapted gameplay systems and formulas common to traditional Japanese role-playing games – think turn-based battles and town-dungeon-town progression – but did so with their own twist.Continue reading Suikoden II [PlayStation] – Review
While I wouldn’t consider myself a massive fan of the short-lived Evolution series, I have managed to accumulate a respectable collection of related products, perhaps everything released in North America, as a matter of fact. Continue reading Collecting the Evolution Series
Unsure of what to play next after completing Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, my friend and I knew one thing: we didn’t want to play another eighty hour video game! Scanning the shelves of games in front of us, mulling our options, he pointed out The 25th Ward: The Silver Case. I had recently bought that game’s limited edition, despite the fact that its predecessor, The Silver Case, had been in my collection for more than a year, still unopened. I purchased both in part because they were inexpensive, but primarily due to my appreciation for their idiosyncratic writer/director, Goichi Suda, aka Suda51. Following research affirming the game’s length, and brief discussion on playing a visual novel, a genre neither of us had much history with, from a creator my friend had little experience with, we decided to start The Silver Case. Continue reading The Silver Case [PlayStation 4] – Review
I don’t want this review to sound too acrimonious, but I had a lousy experience with Final Fantasy VI. It’s a game I started a couple of times over the past few years, only to burn out early on. By the time I began playing this game, soon after completing the two prior entries, I suffered from a Final Fantasy fatigue. With a few years between my last attempts, I finally restarted this summer and managed to beat it. While I enjoyed much of my playthrough this go-around, my impressions were still negatively colored by those initial burnouts, especially after listening to years of praise for this entry, often cited as the greatest in the series. Opinions are malleable, and mine will undoubtedly grow rosy with the passing of time, but as of this writing I feel this is the weakest Final Fantasy on the Super Nintendo. Continue reading Final Fantasy VI [PlayStation] – Review
The desire needed to complete Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions must be strong in order to persist through the game’s 300 missions. As the name suggests, these missions are set in virtual reality and act as a simulation, presumably for Raiden – the “star” of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. They put him in the shoes of Solid Snake in a variety of challenges that test his stealth skills, weapon proficiency, as well as some others that are just for fun. There is a great variety of missions and I became intimately acquainted with each weapon and the fundamentals of the stealth gameplay. However, there isn’t a great sense of diversity in the missions. Many repeat and there just aren’t enough unique or goofy missions to warrant the time required, especially as there’s little that adds to the lore. But, I did wind up with a 100% completion rate and eked plenty of enjoyment out of my time with the game.
Of the four modes the game is divided into, I had the most fun with the final one: special. To unlock it and its various subtypes, I had to work my way through the other three modes: sneaking, weapon, and advanced. Sneaking mode tasked me with just that: being stealthy. To promote this, half of the missions supplied me with no weapons while the other half limited me to Solid Snake’s trusty SOCOM firearm. This forced me away from just mowing down enemy resistance, although this isn’t a tenable strategy most of the times anyway. I was also required to complete these missions a second time in time attack versions. They were identical, only now I was racing against the clock. I got my fill, but wasn’t burned out.
The subsequent two modes played out a little differently. The first, weapon mode, equipped me with a single weapon for a series of increasingly tougher missions. Time attack versions were also present meaning I repeated each mission twice. All in all, these weren’t very challenging even at their toughest, perhaps explaining the need for the advanced mode. The setup was the same: a few missions with only a single weapon type equipped putting Solid Snake in a more precarious scenario. Again, time attack versions meant I had to repeat these stages twice. At this point, the struggle to continue playing got real.
Stripped of a grandiose narrative, VR Missions is solely gameplay driven. In the presentation, it’s practically a puzzle game. It’s loaded to the brim with mostly succinct missions that hone in on one or two facets of the gameplay. For the most part, they’re enjoyable and enlightening – I know I can return to Metal Gear Solid with a more confident understanding of Solid Snake’s arsenal and the stealth options at his disposal, if I wanted to, which I don’t. I came to this title not knowing what to expect necessarily and it really comes off as what it’s portraying – a training tool. Just as much of training is based around repetition, so too is this game and that’s where it became a struggle to persevere. Many of the mission types were very similar, but then having to repeat the bulk of them in a time attack version? That was a real buzzkill.
When I made it through the majority of the game and unlocked the various mission subtypes within the special mode, I was a little disappointed. There were still plenty of rote simulation style missions among the scant goofy mystery and puzzle style missions. Granted, I got to solve murder mysteries, fight off UFOs and skyscraper-sized enemies, and play as Cyborg Ninja, but this off kilter style of mission was less abundant than I had hoped for. Even with these goofy scenarios, the highlight of this mode was perhaps the final mission I tackled: the VR mission. To clear it, I had to make my way through a truly challenging ten stage gauntlet within a fifteen minute time span, which was always tallying time, even factoring in restarts and deaths. It took me a few attempts before I could do it but when I conquered it, excelsior! It honestly forced me to use much of what I’d learned up to this point to succeed.
Afterwards I got a schematic for Metal Gear Ray, to be featured in the then-unreleased sequel. Again, I was a little disappointed after a dozen hours and a 100% rating for that to be the reward. That’s not to say I didn’t have fun, the game simply grew tiring. There were loads of exciting missions and a lot of variety in the scenarios I was put in and what the missions tasked me with. Unfortunately, many of these had to be repeated which stripped the time spent of diversity as I was repeating much of the game twice. It comes off as a hard game to recommend to anyone but the most diehard fans of the series, and even then I’d caution against playing the time attack versions until all unplayed missions have been exhausted. That should extend the enjoyment and reduce the sense of repetition that I encountered in my time with the game.
When I played Star Ocean: First Departure earlier this year, I came away disappointed. I was looking forward to an epic sci-fi JRPG and instead encountered a brief fantasy tale wrapped in a sci-fi veneer. My eagerness to bask in the series wasn’t washed away however and I promptly began the follow-up Star Ocean: Second Evolution. Another remake for the PSP, this one was of Star Ocean: The Second Story which originally released on the PlayStation in North America in 1999. This version was released ten years later and left me with many of the same grievances, but I wound up enjoying it more.
Of the Star Ocean games released to date, this is the only one to serve as a direct sequel to another. Set twenty years after the events of First Departure, this game is primarily the tale of Claude Kenny, the son of one of the original protagonists. I say primarily because players can also choose Rena Lanford as the centerpiece of the game. Both characters embark on a journey of self-discovery and their paths cross very early on at which point they remain together through the end. Having done a single playthrough I can’t comment on the differences caused by picking the other, but since they join up so early on, I can’t imagine there’s much uniqueness.
Pretty quickly after starting, Claude gets separated from his father’s Federation crew and he’s left to fend for himself on a technologically inferior planet. Here he comes across Rena and the two eventually embark on a quest to rid planet Expel of the monsters that have freshly infested it. As their quest unfolds they meet likeminded individuals who join up as comrades. Like the previous game, this is a game meant to be replayed as all party members aren’t obtainable in a single playthrough. Unfortunately, tri-Ace pulled the same stunt of developing a fantasy JRPG in the veneer of a sci-fi setting – translated, the sci-fi aspects bookend fantasy elements comprising the bulk of the experience. I’m fine with either setting, but I would caution any readers planning to dive in – these first two games aren’t entirely sci-fi tales!
The sci-fi elements on display were more pronounced however, with the final third taking place on another, further advanced planet. Energy Nede as it was called had an interesting backstory and was home to the Ten Wise Men. This group served as the eventual antagonistic force and they are one of the most memorable I’ve seen in a JRPG. They weren’t particularly fleshed out, but each one was unique and the progression in battling them made the conclusion an event. A few in particular were downright dastardly and evoked major tantrums in me. When they were felled, it was a satisfying event and ultimately everything ended on a cheerful note.
Battles and exploration were identical to First Departure, down to the UI. These remakes were developed at the same time and accordingly, it was all very familiar to me. I still relied upon spamming the basic attack and this continued to be a decent strategy. I will say there were more enemies that required me to flank and others that I had to earnestly avoid attacks, so the battles were a little less monotonous than I’d previously experienced. The skill system returned too and I, again, really enjoyed spending the accrued skill points increasing individual character’s stats and skills. It was an addictive facet that that had a noticeable impact on my party’s performance in battle, making it all the more incentivizing.
Visually, I found this game very appealing. It was originally made during the era of prerendered backgrounds and they were left intact for this remake. Games aren’t often made with this style of prerendered backgrounds anymore as the horsepower in our consoles and computers no longer calls for it. The buildings and towns were constructed using this graphical style and they look dated, which sounds offensive; I really liked them so I would say they looked… nostalgic. Because this style is still new to me, I was able to give some things a pass, like the poor scaling.
Some backgrounds were portrayed with such depth, that as I navigated Claude he would continue to shrink until I could barely make him out. Frequently, this made locating objects to interact with a bit of a chore. Part of the blame lies with the viewing area of the PSP’s screen. This was a console game originally so naturally it was meant to be played on a larger viewing receptacle. It wasn’t until I plugged my PSP into the TV and blew the image up that the visuals really looked right. The game was entirely playable on the PSP, and I usually prefer my RPGs in this form (apt for bedtime sessions), but the game’s roots begged for it to be played on the TV.
Star Ocean: Second Evolution was a more enjoyable game than its predecessor. The story was largely forgettable (what even happened in the middle, I couldn’t tell you) but it did have a larger concentration of sci-fi elements. As was the case with First Departure, it was when the narrative placed the characters in a futuristic setting that my attention was grabbed (especially when the Ten Wise Men were in play). But, it still felt like a fantasy JRPG wrapped in a sci-fi shell. The core gameplay mechanics– battling and adventuring – were identical to the previous game; they still remained fun after another twenty hours due to the additional challenge breaking up the monotony. And graphically the game was presented in a way that felt fresh to me, despite the dated stylings. It’s the best Star Ocean I’ve played to date, but much of it was largely forgettable and perhaps not worth seeking out. A better future was found, but here’s hoping for an even brighter one.
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.
I want to say I purchased this game this year, although it may have been late 2013. My PSP collection has seriously expanded as GameStop shifted towards discontinuing the platform in the majority of their stores. Anyway, being a fan of JRPGs I’ve always been interested in this series but never took the plunge. I knew these games were remakes from a much older line of games, but reading about the series is a good refresher on just how many games remained exclusive to Japan in the late 1980s/early 1990s. This is actually the fifth game in the series, and the third in a trilogy. I haven’t played it and while I’d like to, I can’t say when I will.
The Legend of Heroes III: Song of the Ocean was originally developed and published by Nihon Falcom and released for the PC on December 9, 1999, exclusively in Japan. It finally reached North America as a PSP remake. This version was developed by Microvision and published by Namco Bandai Games on January 23, 2007.
When I began playing Final Fantasy V, the first ten or so hours got me down. Coming off of my completion of Final Fantasy IV, this game felt like a pause in progression for Square. The characters, protagonists and antagonists alike, felt one-dimensional. The narrative didn’t allow for a rotating party as the previous game did, and this kept the experience stale. During this early period, the combat system felt wholly similar to its predecessor too. It wasn’t until the job system was unlocked and given a few hours to come into its own, that I really began to enjoy the game.
With a traditional narrative revolving around elemental crystals and a maniacal evildoer, I didn’t get drawn into the story. After all, with a name like X-Death, there’s no questioning his motives. The protagonists were, slightly, more fleshed out though. Bartz was a wanderer who encountered the princess Reina and a stranger from another planet, Galuf, while investigating a meteorite. They joined together and set about to protect the four crystals after they witnessed one of them shattering and learned that collectively, the crystals protected a seal on X-Death.
Soon enough, the group bumped into the pirate Faris. Get this, Faris suffers from amnesia and is actually Reina’s long lost sister, Salsa. The group initially fails to protect the four crystals and X-Death is freed. With his freedom, X-Death returns to his original planet to begin conquering those who sealed him away. As the story plays out, the group learns that the two worlds were once one and in their quest to defeat X-Death, they reunite them. Galuf’s granddaughter Krile joins the fray eventually as the party composition changes partway through the game.
This game adapts the Active Time Battle system of its predecessor so battles played out nearly identically. This meant time continued to flow as I navigated the battle menus, etc. The differentiator for this game was the job system. Although Final Fantasy III had a job system, the one implemented here is structured differently – I found it more fun.
Each character had a personal level and a job level. Gaining a personal level improved stats while gaining a job level unlocked related abilities. An unlocked ability could be equipped regardless of what job any given character was at the time. This meant a white mage could also use black and time magic or a samurai could heal in the clutch. The abilities and benefits were plentiful and I had many favorite combinations at different points in the game. This gameplay system kept the game interesting when the narrative failed to do so. In my mind, that’s how I’ll remember the game.
Final Fantasy V was a slow starter. It was hard for me to get excited about the game when the story and characters weren’t doing it for me. This was concerning as I felt Square genuinely moved the genre forward with Final Fantasy IV. Eventually, the gameplay became the focal point of interest for me as the job system grew more robust and my party was earning the experience to unlock abilities. Mixing and matching the traits of different jobs and overcoming tough enemies were definitely the stars of the game.
UmJammer Lammy is a simple music game that was published by Sony for the PlayStation in 1999. It was developed by NanaOn-Sha, a Japanese studio headed up by Masaya Matsuura. They’re most known for PaRappa the Rapper, to which UmJammer Lammy serves as a spinoff. The game features a striking art style courtesy of Rodney Greenblat. Matching the bizarre art design is a similarly weird story and funny songs. While the non-interactive parts of UmJammer Lammy are laudable, the gameplay was simple yet tough and unclear.
Lammy is a guitarist in an all girl rock band called MilkCan. Rocking out is what she does, but rocking out in front of a crowd in a traditional venue just isn’t wacky enough for the art style. I only made it to the second level, but it seemed to promise grand stages. In that level Lammy had to help put out a burning building. To do so she imagined that a fire house was her guitar and she began rocking out. When Lammy is without her guitar she isn’t very confident, but with it she’s unstoppable; unless I’m playing in which case it’s constant failure.
As a guitarist, Lammy’s job is to play rock ‘n’ roll and perform well so this responsibility falls on me as the player. Fortunately for me, Lammy had teachers who would show me the buttons I’d have to press moments before I’d have to press them. Sounds simple enough but the game is ridiculously demanding.
When playing a song I’d be graded in real-time. It seemed way too easy to have my grade drop fast. I wasn’t sure if the timing of my button presses was off because there wasn’t any indication telling me otherwise. Even when I’d perform well, I’d reach the end of the song and fail for no good reason. Besides my grade I’d also have a point total so perhaps I needed to get this above a certain amount to succeed?
Another aspect to the gameplay was the ability to freestyle. Like in PaRappa the Rapper, UmJammer Lammy encourages players to freestyle. The manual encouraged me to press buttons other than the ones I should be pressing to rack up much higher scores and reach the ultimate grade of cool. When I reached this grade, Lammy’s teacher would leave her side and I was able to press whatever buttons I felt like, as long as I stuck to the rhythm of the song. Alas I was never able to progress beyond the second stage.
I bought UmJammer Lammy with anticipation. It looked like a fun game and I hoped to see what craziness the game had to offer. Unfortunately I found the simple gameplay very tough. It never provided me feedback on why I was doing poorly and that disappointed me. Maybe I don’t have rhythm, but I couldn’t get into the game.
Q: What is Juggernaut?
A: Juggernaut is a first-person adventure game where the primary mechanic is solving puzzles. A great shorthand reference would be the popular game Myst, a less ideal one would be either Mansion of Hidden Souls or The Mansion of Hidden Souls, two similar games that I wrote about earlier in the year. Juggernaut was released on the Playstation in 1999, many years after any of these games.
Q: What is Juggernaut about?
A: The protagonist’s girlfriend has become possessed by an evil spirit (presumably the devil) and a priest has notified the protagonist that the exorcism he performed was ineffective. Telling the protagonist that his love for her is the greatest chance of removing the evil, he sends him into her body to rid her of the evil.
Q: Wait, what!?
A: Yes, that’s only the beginning to the surreal adventure that plays out in Juggernaut. Inside the girlfriend’s body my friend and I did not find organs and blood but instead a mansion; perhaps a nod to the Mansion games?
Q: Okay, but why a mansion?
A: Well I suppose it could be a metaphor for something. Maybe it symbolizes her soul with the rooms inside representing specific chapters of her life, maybe not though. Functionally it provides a great backdrop for a single environment that requires a lot of exploration and houses many puzzles.
Q: You’ve mentioned puzzles, but what’s gameplay like besides them, what do you do?
A: My friend and I controlled the protagonist and explored the mansion and other environments. We’d explore until we couldn’t progress any farther, usually because of puzzles, although I use that term lightly. Most puzzles seemed to revolve around finding an item and making the connection as to what it’s used for. There were puzzles that required my friend and me to get scratch paper out and think something through, but for the most part making connections was the name of the game.
Q: So it’s a puzzle game and the puzzles aren’t that great, why should I even care about Juggernaut?
A: That’s a great point actually. My friend and I felt the same way until we encountered an evil microcosm, what we were attempting to rid the girlfriend’s body of. The evil microcosms were one-off stories that featured unique plots, characters, and environments. The stories and dialogue in the microcosms were absurd! Definitely some of the weirdest stuff I’ve encountered in a video game.
There were eight microcosms in all. Two of them took place in the future, entirely on the internet via virtual reality. Two of them took place in an isolated prison. One of these featured a spy who yelled out karate moves before he attacked people, like “karate correspondence manual page 12, flying kangaroo”. It ended in a goofy/creepy five minute conversation with another character that had my friend and me laughing, and confused. Two took place on tropical islands and they also resulted in confusion. The last two took place in woods and they dealt with a ghost shaman from Africa and a killer who slashed out eyes. I’m only scratching the surface of what makes these storylines strange by the way, just know the plots develop strangely and the dialogue is detailed
Q: After everything you did was the ending satisfying?
A: Yes, actually. What was more satisfying was the epilogue though. It added another puzzle and a lot of exposition from the girlfriend’s perspective, plus, a twist.
Q: Who made Juggernaut?
A: I’m unclear on that. There are two Japanese companies attached to Juggernaut, Will and TonkinHouse. From what I’ve gathered Will developed it and Tonkin House published it in Japan. Jaleco published it in America. Remember, it came out on the PlayStation in 1999.
Q: So should I play it?
A: Nah. The gameplay was slow and it takes a long place to get somewhere. There was an interesting mechanic in the mansion of having to switch bodies to access specific rooms but this was time consuming. Juggernaut is a pretty ugly game even considering how old it is but I liked the soundtrack, it wasn’t overbearing, it was moody, and set the tone well. It was fun solving puzzles and experiencing the oddities with a friend and the microcosms were surreal, but you can probably YouTube that stuff.