Towards the end of Breakdown, after a protracted fist fight against Solus, the game’s shirtless Sephiroth stand-in and resident antagonist, my amnesiac avatar Derrick Cole lie battered on the floor. Unable to save Earth from encroaching T’lan warriors, Derrick bore witness to humanity’s last best hope: a nuclear bomb to the heart of Site Zero, the very spot he rested. Twenty years later he woke up in someone else’s body, his memories having been transferred. The T’lan have overrun earth but he’s been given another shot. I, too, suffered a bout of amnesia with Breakdown. I played it years ago just up to completion and have always recalled it fondly. My memories failed me. Continue reading Breakdown [Xbox] – Review→
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→
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 a memorable purchase for me. While in St. Louis for Sonic Boom 2013, my friend and visited many video game retailers, with a focus on the mom and pop game shops in the various suburbs. However, I acquired this at a Toys ‘R’ Us alongside Eternal Sonata for the Xbox 360. As is usually the case, I haven’t played this yet, but I really do want to! I can recall reading Game Informer’s review of The Sands of Time while riding the backseat of my parent’s car. I thought it looked so cool, and so did they. I was less interested in the sequels, although they were well received too.
The Prince of Persia Trilogy contains the PS2 versions of The Sands of Time, Warrior Within, and The Two Thrones, all originally developed by Ubisoft Montreal. The HD ports were handled by Ubisoft Sofia. This collection was originally released for the PS2, exclusively in Europe on October 27, 2006, but the PS3 version was released in North America on April 19, 2011 – 5 months after its European release. These HD remakes are also available individually on PSN.
Light-gun style games are almost always lacking in content, but feature-rich in replayability. Ghost Squad for the Wii is no exception. It was originally developed by Sega AM2 and released into the arcades in 2004, but was ported to the Wii by Polygon Magic in 2007. I just played through it with a friend and it literally took us less than a half-hour. There’s a handful of reasons to replay the game, but with the exception of one, they’re hard to justify actually do so. That said, this brief experience was a blast as the game was well-executed. Continue reading Ghost Squad [Wii] – Review→
Released back in 2004, Pokémon Colosseum was Nintendo’s first attempt at making a full-scale console RPG out of their Pokémon series. Having been an avid fan at the time it was originally released, I remember being severely let down by the nontraditional take on the Pokémon formula. My teenage self couldn’t even bother to complete the game, despite the allure of trading some truly worthy Pokémon into Pokémon Ruby. Think of all the free time I had then! I’m revisiting the game now as a part of my grand Pokémon ambition, and I came away enjoying it more than I originally did for the exact reason I disliked it then – it’s different.
Wes, the player’s avatar, is a mute antihero attempting to foil the plans of the nefarious gang he recently betrayed. Alongside a spunky girl named Rui, who is the only known person able to detect Shadow Pokémon, the duo set about snagging and purifying all Pokémon that have had their hearts corrupted. I thought the storyline and characters were ridiculously simple, although some were just plain ridiculous. Of course, I didn’t begin this game with expectations of a riveting story. In fact, I don’t think anyone plays these games for their story; it’s the gameplay that draws people in.
The backdrop of the game is the Orre region, and as it is rather desolate, and a little more rough-and-tumble than other regions, there aren’t any wild Pokémon. The only method of building one’s collection in this game is snagging Shadow Pokémon from other trainers, which goes against everything that had been ingrained in the series up to this point. Once they’ve been snagged, they need to be rehabilitated through use in battle, among other procedures. While battling, Shadow Pokémon may enter Hyper Mode from time to time. While in this mode, their chances of striking a critical-hit increase, however, they may also ignore orders. Calling their name will calm them down.
A second distinguishing feature of this game is the battles themselves. For the duration of the storyline, every battle is a double battle. Each trainer plays with two active Pokémon. I really enjoyed the developer’s dedication to this feature. Most other games only feature double battles intermittently, which in a way, dilutes their appeal. Instead, the opportunity presented itself to build my party around combinations that made sense. I didn’t necessarily strategize in such a way, but the other trainers sure did; the combination of Earthquake and floating Pokémon did grow to be annoying.
Due to the structure of the game, there is a set number of obtainable Pokémon. Following the storyline and having an inquisitive nature will generally result in catching snagging them all. Once the game has been completed, players can freely trade between Pokémon Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald. There is also Mt. Battle, a 100-trainer challenge, and a few multiplayer battling modes. Should one snag and purify every Pokémon and complete Mt. Battle, they’ll be awarded a Ho-oh – my current quest.
Back in the day, I couldn’t get beyond Colosseum’s differences from the Game Boy Advance games. I simply wanted one of those games with full-scale console graphics, nothing more and nothing less. Instead, Nintendo and developer Genius Sonority developed a different type of Pokémon game. Coming to it now, and with tempered expectations, I actually really enjoyed myself. The gameplay differences kept it fresh as I was coming to it having just completed LeafGreen– a very traditional game. Not only that, getting to see so many Pokémon visualized in respectable 3D was exciting for me. This isn’t your grandfather’s Pokémon game.
Pokémon LeafGreen, and its retail buddy Pokémon FireRed, are remakes of the original Pokémon games. Released for the Game Boy Advance in 2004, LeafGreen and FireRed are 3rd generation Pokémon titles and the first remakes in the series. As such, there are major improvements over their originators. However, the improvements are primarily relegated to updated graphics, which are much more detailed compared to their Game Boy brethren. There is a decent amount of new post-game content too, mostly introducing Pokémon from newer generations. It’s a solid title, with the toughest Elite Four in the series and a selection of Pokémon that isn’t completely overwhelming.
By the way, the theme for the 4th and 5th Sevii Islands totally rocks. It’s so hot, I have it on my iPod!
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.
Mr. Driller: Drill Spirits. It’s a game about digging to the bottom of sometimes infinite voids, and while it isn’t packed with enough content to fill the void left by major releases, its fast-paced gameplay and moments of surviving by just an inch are apt enough to fill the void in between other things.
Mr. Driller: Drill Spirits is an action/puzzle game for the Nintendo DS. It was developed and published by Namco and released on November 30, 2004, about a week after the DS was released.
A spiritual successor of sorts to the arcade game Dig Dug, my objective was to dig deep. I had to dig through rocks shaped like squares and composed of different colors. I needed to be careful so the rocks wouldn’t drop on me while also keeping an eye out for oxygen tanks as I had a limited supply of oxygen. The gameplay was easy to grasp, tough to master, and fast-paced; I found it very fun.
Mr. Driller: Drill Spirits is light on content. There are three single player modes and they’re just slightly different from each other. Mission driller is the primary mode; here I was tasked to dig through increasingly deeper stages and was rewarded with minimal amounts of conversation and unlockable characters. In pressure driller mode I had to escape an enormous driller while also attacking it with ammunition I had to pick up and then fire at it. The third single player mode was a time attack mode where I had to complete stages as quickly as possible.
The game also has multiplayer, but it requires each person to have a copy of the game so that was out of the question for me. Its gameplay is easy to grasp and it can get frantic so I would’ve liked the option for single-cart multiplayer to try it out, but it’s not present.
The single player modes were challenging. It was easy for me to complete the early levels in the modes, but I needed to evolve my techniques to make headway, something I had a hard time doing. I gather the ideal way to play Mr. Driller is to zigzag through the stages. Doing this makes it easier to gather pickups and prevents rocks from falling onto my character as they would join with rocks of the same color or get caught on other rocks. I had to train myself to dig horizontal when my inclination was to dig vertical.
I liked Mr. Driller: Drill Spirits’ gameplay. It was simple and fast-paced, but it became very challenging. I was able to complete the game, but I found little reason to play afterwards. I could play as other characters and get different conversations, but that wasn’t that appealing. I did find the gameplay enticing enough to play post completion just competing for higher scores however. It’s fun while it lasts and it’s fun to play afterwards for small chunks of time and with complete copies selling for five bucks on the internet that sounds like a good deal.
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.