Tag Archives: 2008

Star Ocean: First Departure [PlayStation Portable] – Review

Star Ocean First Departure

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.

Battles took place in fully roamable arenas - an evolution of Tales of Phantasia.
Battles took place in fully roamable arenas – an evolution of Tales of Phantasia.

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.

There was an omnipresent feeling of the future, even while on Roak.
There was an omnipresent feeling of the future, even while on Roak.

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.

An air of replayability was present as not all party members could be accessed in one playthrough.
An air of replayability was present as not all party members could be accessed in one playthrough.

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.

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Lost Odyssey and My Seeker of the Deep Woes

Lost Odyssey - Nooo!

So, after roughly 75 hours, I’m finished playing Lost Odyssey. That game had me engrossed like few other RPGs before it. I could’ve beaten the game around the 50 hour mark, but thanks in no small part to achievements, I found myself compelled to eke everything I could out of the game. I literally did everything that could be done in the main game save one thing – obtain all items from the treasure chests strewn about the world. This was an achievement, and the only reason I didn’t pop this one was because I fucked myself over roughly halfway in. Most items that are missed later appear in an auction house, and unfortunately I lost the first auction I entered and didn’t realize the consequences of that until much later. Likely, I missed other items too, so I probably wouldn’t have gotten this one anyways.

That’s not the point of this article, although it does provide additional details on my experience with the game. The main point of this article is how I fucked myself over in another way! After beating the final boss and enduring fifteen minutes of ludicrous cutscenes, I was prompted to save the clear data. Actually, I may have been prompted to save beforehand and I’d like to get my facts straight, but no enough to research it, I just wanted to let you know. Anyways, I saved right over my primary save not thinking twice about it. A day later, I decided it was time to do the very last thing on my Lost Odyssey agenda – play through the Seeker of the Deep DLC. But I saved clear data over my primary save. CLEAR DATA!

For those uninitiated with RPGs, and more specifically Japanese RPGs, clear data is generally an unplayable file only certifying that you completed the game. And really, what is the fucking use in that!? Lost Odyssey uses it for new game + purposes, so at least it’s put to use for something. It does me no good however. Reading online, the recommended levels to complete the DLC hover around the 90s, maybe the mid 80s. With party levels in the 70s, it would take me hours of grinding with the other saves to reach a comfortable party level, while loading my primary save starts the game at the very beginning, with a few perks. So, instead of spending a few more hours with Lost Odyssey, I’m finished with it.

Lost Odyssey and My Disc Four Woes

Lost Odyssey - Japan

“Are you kidding me?” I sat there and thought as I kept failing in my attempts to install the fourth disc of Lost Odyssey to my Xbox 360. You see, in the hopes of reducing load times and allowing my Xbox 360 to take it a little easier (less disc spinning should mean moving parts are being used less) I prefer to install any game I play. And, this tactic worked just fine for discs one, two, and three. The fourth disc on the other hand was being a bugbear and dampening my good feelings upon reaching it after 35 hours of traditional JRPG excellence.

So, when I had the opportunity, I took the troublesome disc to a local game shop to have it resurfaced. This, being Friday after work (aka payday) and accompanied by my closest gaming equal Jeff, we made an evening of the trip. As I always say: “it isn’t a weekend if I haven’t bought a video game!” The first stop – Tulsa’s midtown Vintage Stock – was a bust. Their disc resurfacing machine was out of order, but we took a look around nonetheless. Were it not for his suggestion to choose this Vintage Stock location, I wouldn’t have added Rippin’ Riders (Dreamcast), Murakumo: Renegade Mech Pursuit (Xbox), Battle Fantasia (Xbox 360), and Space Invaders Extreme 2 (Nintendo DS) to my collection. In other words, the trip wasn’t completely unfruitful.

Thus we headed to the Tulsa Hills Vintage Stock, with the foreknown knowledge that their resurfacing machine was in order. As it was getting late (around 9:00 at this point) and both he and I (as well as Jenny, back home) were ravished with hunger, I quickly scanned the walls and only walked away with Ferrari F355 Challenge for the PlayStation 2 and the strategy guide for Infinite Undiscovery. The former, in the hopes of comparing/contrasting it alongside the Dreamcast port, and the latter in the hopes of… well, we’ll see if I actually ever get around to playing that game; I mean, I’ve owned Lost Odyssey for a couple of years now, have wanted to experience it since its announcement, and I’m only now getting around to it!

With food retrieved (Chinese, if you must know) we enjoyed our meal with a humorous selection of videos courtesy of YouTube. Afterwards, we proceeded to play the first episode of Telltale Games’ Game of Thrones adaptation. Wait… what!? Well, Jeff had just played through it himself and was curious to see how my decisions contrasted with his. Personally, I very much enjoyed what I played. This was my first experience with the newer style of their games, and was a strong reminder that I NEED TO PLAY THE WALKING DEAD! When he vacated the premises to return to his abode, I sat down and set about installing the final disc of Lost Odyssey. And it got no further. Heck, I even tried multiple times, again.

“Okay, what’s really wrong with this disc” I thought to myself. As they generally do, the quick Google search I performed yielded the answer and luckily enough, the solution. It turns out, for the North American and European releases of the game, the clamshell packaging was only made to contain three discs (which I always thought was odd considering the secondhand copy I acquired had all four in the disc slot clearly labeled three). The solution was to place the fourth in a paper sleeve, which, at some point during shipping or storage or whatever, a thin film of grime was produced on this disc, which has proved difficult for most to remove. As I mentioned however, my Google search also yielded the solution, although I was equal parts hesitant and flummoxed at the suggestions: boil the game disc.

As a layman on the structure of a DVD, I was understandably incredulous. However, many disparate sources were suggesting the remedy with as many or more claiming it worked for them. “I can always acquire another copy, or borrow Jeff’s. Surely he still has his copy.” I thought, placating my doubts. And so, I started to boil a pot of water on the stove. As the water was getting to temperature, I tried installing the game yet again in the hopes I wouldn’t have to take such a drastic measure, but no dice. So, with the water at a steady boil, the disc took the plunge.

I held it just at the top for the recommended ten seconds, dried it off on a nearby towel and forced the plunge once more. As it neared the water, the heat emanating from the pot caused it to warp slightly, inflicting second doubts in my mind, but it returned to normal after the plunge. After a moment for it to dry and return to room temperature, I went back to the living room to try yet again; all the while leaving the water on a low boil in case it was needed once more. I sat patiently as the percentage slowly climbed. When the 40% figure was reached, I grew tentative. The Xbox 360 was audibly having difficulty and this was always around the percentage the system gave up. The odd starts and stops soon disappeared and it smashed past 50% and never looked back. I could get on with my life again – problem solved!

Thinking back on it now, there’s surely another reason for the fourth disc to cause so many people issues. I mean, I’ve played games that have been kept in paper sleeves and they worked just fine. Perhaps there was an issue with the manufacturing of the mentioned regions’ fourth disc. If it truly was the paper sleeve, it still comes down to Microsoft as the publisher choosing to skimp on the clamshell case and jury rigging a solution. Whatever the case may be, I can now resume a damn fine JRPG. Plus, I got an interesting story out of this predicament!

Random Game #21 – Golf: Tee It Up! [Xbox Live Arcade]

Golf Tee It Up!

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.

Now here’s a game I’ve actually played! Albeit, not in a very long time. Back in my achievement hunting days, I’d call this “an easy 200.” Gamerscore that is, but in truth, this was actually a decent golf game. Even with the limited experience I had with golf games, I was able to jump right in and have a good time. The only downside was the limited amount of content – reading about it now, the game has two courses (both 18 holes) with an additional one available for purchase. Pretty weak, still, for the handful of days that I played it, it was enjoyable and the online multiplayer was a plus.

Golf: Tee It Up! was developed by Housemarque, most recently known for their standout efforts on PSN, such as Super Stardust HD. It was published by Activision on Xbox Live Arcade on July 9, 2008.

Random Game #16 – Guitar Hero: World Tour [Xbox 360]

Guitar Hero World Tour

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.

By the time Guitar Hero: World Tour released, I had not only moved onto Rock Band, but moved away from acquiring the annual rhythm game. This being 2008, the genre was red hot and hadn’t been flooded quite yet. World Tour was Activision’s attempt to evolve the Guitar Hero series into a full-fledged band game and by all accounts, they were very successful. Not only that, they introduced a few differentiating features such as the music creation tools and a drum kit featuring cymbals. I only picked it up this year for a dollar or so and have yet to play it. I’ve been hooked on this type of game before and at the very least, I’m looking forward to playing through the game with a friend.

Guitar Hero: World Tour was developed by Neversoft and released in North America on October 26, 2008. It was available for a plethora of platforms: PlayStation 2, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, PC, and Mac. The PS2 and Wii versions were ported by Budcat Creations and Vicarious Visions, respectively, while the PC and Mac versions were ported and published by Aspyr Media. These last two were released on July 26, 2009. Activision published all other versions.

Resistance 2 [PS3] – Review

Grrr, me gruff man with weapon on video game box.
Grrr, me gruff man with weapon on video game box.

I had a handful of issues with Resistance: Fall of Man. I’d have to say many others did to, despite its release to critical acclaim. I say this because Resistance 2 rectifies every issue I had with Fall of Man and does so on a much more epic scale. Nathan Hale speaks more in the first few minutes than he did in the entirety of the first game. Even so, it’s apparent he’s not the star of the game – the locales and boss battles are. More importantly, the campaign difficulty is balanced much better. Every decision Insomniac Games made culminated in a more entertaining first-person shooter compared to the original.

While Resistance 2 picks up immediately where Fall of Man left off, most of the game takes place two years after the events of the first game. It’s 1953 and the Chimera have practically overrun the United States – the last bastion for humanity. Salvation rests in the hands of a few U.S. soldiers who were infected with the Chimeran virus during government studies. Sentinels, as they’re referred to, possess superhuman abilities and regenerative health. They’re not immune to the virus living within them though, and must take injections frequently to inhibit the spread of the virus.

The U.S. studies which created the Sentinels were carried out by Fyodor Malikov, a Russian scientist seeking a way to combat the Chimeran forces and cure the virus that transforms humans into the alien scourge. One of his failed test subjects has since become known as Daedalus. Formerly known as Jordan Shepherd, Daedalus is a hovering blob of Chimera that operates as a hive mind commanding the Chimera. The game begins with his escape from a secret base in Iceland at which point he begins putting a hurting on the remnants of America. Nathan and his new Sentinel buddies know what needs to be done and set out to kill Daedalus.

Anyone else remember Sony's E3 2008 press conference?
Anyone else remember Sony’s E3 2008 press conference?

The forward momentum in Resistance 2 was always the destruction of Daedalus. However, with Malikov’s presence came much back-story and in retrospect, it seems like the game was most concerned with filling the player in than topping off the Chimeran threat for good. Whether it was in regards to the Chimera and their origin or the experiments that Malikov did, I never felt like the overarching conflict was moving towards closure with Nathan’s actions. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Most series’ seem to be trilogies nowadays so even if major story beats happen in the middle games, it usually doesn’t represent a major amount of finality for the series. I’m not too bummed because I was consistently mesmerized by the locations and set piece battles I encountered.

Nathan’s journey saw him traveling across America, through both scenic settings like redwood forests and southern swamplands and notable cities like San Francisco and California. Each level felt unique thanks to the vastly different settings and the varied enemy types. These two facets were major improvements over Fall of Man. It was the boss fights that truly shined though. These end-level nuisances were hulking mammoths, the scale of which I don’t think I’ve seen in another first-person shooter, were unbelievable to see and fun to conquer. I especially like how they were foreshadowed throughout the levels. Catching glimpses of the skyscraper-sized Leviathan in Chicago set the mood for the remainder of that level.

I'm sure San Francisco will be just fine.
I’m sure San Francisco will be just fine.

The stages and bosses were very cool, but thankfully the campaign difficulty was balanced so much better than the original. First off, the health system was slightly revamped. Recharging health was still in effect but instead of a tiered health bar, damage was indicated by the amount of blood splatter on the screen. I prefer this shift from the tiered health bar because it saw me getting in less binds where I had a sliver of health; I could regenerate Nathan’s health fully by taking cover instead of only up to a point. The biggest improvement in my eyes was the less stringent checkpointing. After every battle or story event, I was greeted with a checkpoint. No longer was I forced to battle dozens of enemies again if I was killed after a few minutes of progression. This was such a relief and helped me enjoy this game much more than the original.

One of the bigger gameplay changes between these two games was Nathan’s ability to carry weapons. In the original, I had access to each weapon I came across; the game adopted an old-school approach, favoring a personal armory. This game opted for the now common two weapon limit. At any point, Nathan could only carry two weapons, meaning I had to make decisions as to what I wanted. My decision was usually influenced by Insomniac’s weapon staging. Weapons were placed in key points along the linear pathway, and like the boss battles, usually foreshadowed an impending battle. I really thought they did a great job at this since it got me alternating weapons and going outside my comfort zone.

I'm surprised the Predator hasn't sued for likeness infringement as Lady Miss Kier did with Space Channel 5.
I’m surprised the Predator hasn’t sued for likeness infringement as Lady Miss Kier did with Space Channel 5.

It might be cliché to say, but Resistance 2 was a roller-coaster ride. Nathan’s travels took him throughout America at a break-neck pace, and usually I didn’t quite understand why. It all seemed to be in service of exploiting the locales for interesting settings and epic boss battles. I’m cool with that though because Insomniac played with a scale unseen in first-person shooters. Best of all though, the game was actually enjoyable to play. With the revisions to campaign difficulty, this game was challenging – not brutal. For these reasons, and the shocking ending, I was jazzed for Resistance 3.

Dead Space [PS3] – Review

The pet project of Glen Schofield - an industry veteran who came up through hard work on licensed titles.
The pet project of Glen Schofield – an industry veteran who came up through hard work on licensed titles.

Set about 500 years in the future, Dead Space centers on Isaac Clarke and the horrific events surrounding the USG Ishimura. This “planetcracker” is a mining spacecraft that recently sent out a distress signal which Isaac and a small squad is answering. What he and his cohorts find is multitudes worse than what most of them could’ve imagined. Any hopes of the mission being routine are thrown out the window when almost immediately the squad is attacked by garish creatures – “the ship’s crew slaughtered and infected by an alien scourge” to quote the back of the box.

The underpinnings of cultish intrigue are soon the full-scale narrative driver of the game. As Isaac survives his way through the Ishimura, he learns of the crew’s discovery of the Marker and the impact it had on them. Supposedly a holy artifact for the Church of Unitology, the discovery is of great importance to many of the ship’s members who then change course at the direction of Captain Benjamin Mathius. This wasn’t the only discovery they made however. Coming along with the Marker is an unknown alien life form that begins ravaging the crew and turning them into Necromorphs.

Necromorphs came in many shapes and sizes. Dealing each variety required a slight twist on dismemberment.
Necromorphs came in many shapes and sizes. Dealing each variety required a slight twist on dismemberment.

These creatures are grotesque abominations of former crew members who are anything but gentle. With repair objectives taking him all over the Ishimura, Isaac runs into hundreds of Necromorphs. Equipped with a plasma cutter and an arsenal of other weapons, it’s soon made clear to both Isaac and the player that the most effective way of combating this enemy presence is through dismemberment.

I found the gameplay loop that dismembering small groups of Necromorphs turned into, to be highly enjoyable. The precision and power that the plasma cutter ripped through these fiends was such a satisfying and visceral experience, encountering groups of Necromorphs almost wasn’t scary. After a playthrough and a half, I’d recommend not using any other weapon; the plasma cutter is that incredible.

It’s that gameplay loop that kept me jiving on the game for so long. The narrative unfolded at a brisk pace and I learned much about the goings on before Isaac arrived via plentiful text, audio, and video logs, but the chapter objectives were so drab. I felt like Fix-It Felix as Zach Hammond and Kendra Daniels (fellow crew members responding to the distress signal) issued Isaac around the Ishimura having him repair broken equipment. Aside from some awesome boss encounters and a handful of entertaining tasks, the chapters mostly felt like a means to an end.

Much praise has been heaped on Dead Space for it's innovative HUD and UI.
Much praise has been heaped on Dead Space for it’s innovative HUD and UI.

Somewhat memorable was Dr. Challus Mercer. After the captain was accidentally killed by Dr. Terrence Kyne, Dr. Mercer assumed control of the Ishimura. He is more of a cultish zealot than Captain Mathius was and this is seen firsthand by Isaac. With an ever watchful eye on Isaac, Dr. Mercer always seems one step ahead of Isaac, Zach, and Kendra. Their run-ins usually entail a challenging combat sequence. Paired with that sequence is a dose of Dr. Mercer’s maniacal devotion to the church and his belief that transformation into Necromorphs is humanity’s higher calling.

Dr. Kyne plays a role soon enough and eventually they are led back to the planet where it all came from. He is a character with good intentions consumed by the hallucinations of his deceased wife. He and Isaac aren’t dissimilar; Isaac is also haunted by increasingly lifelike hallucinations of his deceased girlfriend Nicole Brennan. Nicole and Dr. Kyne are key figures in returning the Marker to its former resting place, hoping to calm the chaos and prevent the Necromorphs from reaching Earth.

The boss encounters were remarkable.
The boss encounters were remarkable.

Dead Space was a game with loads of prerelease marketing courtesy of Electronic Arts and among the content were a handful of developer diaries. In one of these, it was mentioned that the intention was for Isaac to be an “everyman” but I don’t think this was achieved. I feel this way solely because he was a silent protagonist interacting with very realistic characters. Much of the dialogue consisted of other people speaking directly to Isaac, and his lack of speech created a weird dissonance.

That’s about the only gripe I have as far as the audio/visual qualities are concerned. The game looks remarkable, but there isn’t a lot of variety outside of the sterile, futuristic corridors splashed with copious amounts of gore. The soundtrack was used more to cultivate a continuous sense of fright regarding what’s around the next corner instead of building up to an ultimate crescendo over and over again. Jason Graves’ score, composed of mechanical sound effects and haunting instrumental bits, helped in creating a dreadful ambiance reeking of Doom 3’s impact.

Fairly often, Isaac would traverse sections with no gravity, having to jump from wall to wall to get around.
Fairly often, Isaac would traverse sections with no gravity, having to jump from wall to wall to get around.

It was with Dead Space that EA Redwood Shores, now Visceral Games, was given the chance to moonlight with a new intellectual property and I think they knocked it out of the park. The cultish narrative was intriguing enough, although it was the dismemberment gameplay loop that carried the entertainment weight for me. The plasma cutter offered such precision and power that dealing with groups of Necromorphs was something I looked forward to. After, I got over the fright of them appearing of course.