Considering Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions released on the Nintendo 3DS just two weeks ago, this review is coming at a pretty opportune time. Granted, I played through the original Game Boy Advance version and not the remake… but what I have to say should remain applicable. And, for the record, I purchased my copy before the 3DS remake was announced, like a week or two before actually. Needless to say the remake announcement surprised me and my uncle who works at Nintendo… Anyways, developed by AlphaDream and published by Nintendo, Superstar Saga was released for the Game Boy Advance in November 2003. A spiritual successor of sorts to Super Mario RPG and Paper Mario, it similarly blended humor, platforming, and role-playing gameplay with great execution. Continue reading Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga [Game Boy Advance] – 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.
I don’t fully recall how I came to own Drill Dozer but I imagine I acquired it from Best Buy a year or so after its release. I remember reading about it in Nintendo Power at the time. It seemed interesting, especially because it was something different from Game Freak, and it was well received, but it wasn’t for me. This, more than likely, was because I didn’t have a job at the time. As best as I can remember, it played like a cross between Mr. Driller and a Treasure side-scroller akin to Gunstar Heroes. It looked fantastic, had a unique premise, and I don’t remember it being terrible, although I didn’t finish it. Thinking about it now, I ought to return to it.
Drill Dozer was developed by Game Freak (you know, the Pokémonstudio) and published in North America by Nintendo on February 6, 2006. This was a Game Boy Advance game, and as the Nintendo DS had been released about a year-and-a-half earlier, I imagine this would’ve been one of Nintendo’s final GBA games. It, along with WarioWare: Twisted, were the only GBA games that utilized a rumble feature.
Classically, the mainline Pokémon games come in threes. The first two launch together while the third, usually an enhanced amalgamation of the previous two, releases about a year later. Pokémon Emerald is the enhanced remake of Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire – the first two Pokémon games on the Game Boy Advance. I adored Ruby when it released in my freshman year of high school. I clocked well over 200 hours with it before moving on. After retiring LeafGreenand Colosseum, I was interested in starting Emerald and returning to Hoenn as it had been ten years since I last saw it.
Returning to Hoenn brought back many memories. As I crisscrossed the expansive island, I remembered specific towns, routes, and completing specific objectives. Not everything was familiar though. I couldn’t remember some of the smaller story beats. The series is host to light and airy narratives though, so this wasn’t a surprise. Whereas players were confronted with Team Aqua or Team Magma in Ruby and Sapphire, players had to contend with both in Emerald. These groups aren’t necessarily evil like Team Rocket, but their goals of enacting massive changes to Hoenn’s ecosystem were potentially world ending.
The Battle Frontier was heavily marketed as the defining feature of Emerald when it released back in the middle of 2005. Personally, the battle facilities that have been introduced in the series haven’t appealed to me too much. This one hasn’t stolen too much of my time either. I appreciate being able to win harder to find evolutionary items and spotlighting the various battle styles is fantastic, but I’ve never put too much time into these. I’m more of a breeder than a fighter. The Battle Frontier is massive though and there is plenty there to entertain diehard fighters.
Really, those are the major differences between Ruby and Sapphire and Emerald. Perhaps the most notable of the minor alterations was Game Freak’s adjustments of wild Pokémon locations and the ability to capture both Groudon and Kyogre. Oh, and the Pokémon battles featured minor amounts of animation, like Crystal did prior. This generation was host to many new additions. Prime among them were double battles, contests, weather, the ability to dive, and many, many other novelties and mechanics.
This awesome building was one of the attractions at the Battle Frontier.
Pokémon Emerald is the first enhanced remake in the series that I’ve completed (discounting LeafGreen and HeartGold, I guess). All in all, the additions and alterations make this the most feature packed between Ruby, Sapphire, and it, but it doesn’t make those games obsolete. I would find it grueling to play this immediately after playing one of those, so if you’re attempting a series playthrough as I am, pick one. The major changes may seem minor, but a comprehensive changelog of all changes would be immense. An older Pokémon game like this isn’t for everybody though, so only Pokémaniacs need apply. I fit the bill too! It’d been forever since I journeyed across Hoenn and it was a pleasant return.
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!
As I browsed GameFAQs, searching for these images, a revelation occurred to me. Final Fantasy IV is probably the most re-released game in the long-running series. That’s a fitting fate for it too. It was perhaps the major title to usher in the “golden age” of Japanese role-playing games. At the very least, it was the first game in the series that hinted at the forward momentum Square would have over the next decade-and-a-half with the genre. So, why don’t you join me as I explore the covers Square used to sell the game over the years.
The first thing I noticed when looking at the original box art Square used for FFIV is the lack of emphasis placed on Yoshitaka Amano’s artwork. The previous three games featured his renderings of warriors and princesses prominently. This go around though, you’d think he was relegated to the logo only. This wasn’t the case though; Square simply chose to highlight a different aspect of the character designs – the super deformed! It’s cutesy for sure and plasters some common job classes upfront, and I guess I like that they took a different route with it. Oh, and there’s Kain Highwind in Amano’s logo.
When they released it in America for the SNES a year later though, the American branch didn’t even try. It’s simple and it always catches my eye when I scour local game shops for good deals. Maybe it’s not so bad; it does catch my eye after all. They really had to pitch it to us though, didn’t they? They’ve got bullet points on the front of the box! It was released over here as Final Fantasy II since the second and third titles weren’t. This prevented much confusion. And releasing a dumbed-down version prevented much difficulty.
The game was first rereleased for the PlayStation in 1997. The Japanese box art sees a return to the styling’s of Amano. Cecil Harvey and Golbez are prominently featured, although honestly, it’s hard for me to distinguish the rest of the imagery, and even if that really is Golbez and not Kain. Regardless, Kain takes his place in the logo. Cecil definitely fronted a hair metal band before being cast for FFIV. The PlayStation version was released in America too, circa 2001. It was bundled with Chrono Trigger and released as Final Fantasy Chronicles. There’s not much else to mention about the box art.
Little known to many Western gamers, Bandai had a fortuitous deal with Square to rerelease Final Fantasy titles for their WonderSwan and WonderSwan Color. FFIV was released for the WSC in 2002. A decadent airship is featured in the background that was no doubt crafted by the illustrious Cid Pollendina.
FFIV would next see release on a Nintendo platform again – the Game Boy Advance. It was released as Final Fantasy IV Advance in Japan and America in December 2005, and six months later in Europe. The Japanese box art is simple. Gray silhouettes of Cecil and Kain flank the logo. Meanwhile the American and European release is much more colorful. These versions feature Cecil and Kain, as well as Rosa Farrell for the first time. The box art used for these regions hints at the love triangle between the cast. This is definitely Amano refining the “wispy lines” he’s known for.
A few years later, the game saw a full-scale remake into 3D. Originally released for the Nintendo DS in Japan in December 2007, it was released in the back-half of 2008 in America and Europe. It has since been released for mobile devices running iOS and Android systems as well, but those platforms don’t really have boxed games… Japan received another Amano box art, featuring a larger portion of the cast, including the Lunar Whale. Here in America, we received an ominous black box, which formed a holographic Golbez. Europeans received the same essentially. The only difference was the color palette.
Finally, FFIV was bundled together with Final Fantasy IV: The After Years and an interlude bridging the two titles as Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection. This was released for the PlayStation Portable in 2011 and was the version I played. I think Japan and Europe got the better box art with this release. A large portion of the cast is done in emotive poses, painted in a watercolor style very reminiscent of Amano’s work on the original three games in the series. America on the other hand received gray silhouettes of Cecil and Kain against a white background. This version was very reminiscent of the Japanese release of Final Fantasy IV Advance.
With a brand as strong as Final Fantasy, the box art doesn’t have to sell the game. This might explain why Square has felt the liberty to rerelease Final Fantasy IV with a multitude of different covers. With much variety for this one game, it’s hard to pick a single favorite. I really like the Japanese and European release of Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection. It’s probably the easy favorite. All of Amano’s artwork is awe-inspiring personally. Heck, the Super Famicom release is cool too, in a differentiated cutesy way. I’ll go with my easy favorite though – the Japanese and European releases of The Complete Collection.
Very much wanting to be a part of the zeitgeist surrounding the release of Fire Emblem: Awakening, I had the urge to play a Fire Emblem game around the game’s February 2013 release. This is despite having written off the tactical role-playing genre previously and already owning a few Fire Emblem titles that I never got more than halfway through. You see, it’s a genre I like in concept, but in practice I don’t have the patience for; I usually haphazardly rush into battles which only get me so far. At least, that used to be the case. When I decided to play Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones alongside a friend (as he was having the same urges as I), I approached it with more maturity and was able to adapt to its gameplay style. In short, I came, I saw, I conquered.
The Sacred Stones was only the second Fire Emblem game to see release in the United States when it hit the Game Boy Advance in 2005. Intelligent Systems had been pumping out the Fire Emblem jams since 1990, but I guess Nintendo didn’t think highly enough of its western audience to localize any of these games until the 2003 release of Fire Emblem, also on the GBA. Which is strange, as this series is one of the forerunners of the genre, especially on home consoles and handhelds.
As is tradition with Fire Emblem games, The Sacred Stones is set in a fantasy setting where magic and demonic creatures are prevalent. Taking place on the continent of Magvel, this game focuses on Eirika and Ephraim, the princess and prince of Renais. Their country has recently been invaded by Grado, a former ally and in their quest to uncover why, they discover the well-intentioned actions of the prince of Grado has brought about the potential resurrection of the Demon King. Their efforts to prevent such a catastrophe lead them to every nation in Magvel in search of the Sacred Stones – wards of such evil.
Players control Eirika for the first third of the game, about the time she reunites with Ephraim. At this point, players have the option of playing through the next third as either character. Eirika’s path takes her to western nations in search of support while Ephraim chooses to confront Grado head-on. My friend and I each chose different routes and we can say with certainty that Ephraim’s path is a little tougher. We had fun discussing the story beats in these chapters, but like most of the game, it was shallow.
My only major gripe with The Sacred Stones is the thin story. There was a lot of exposition before and after battles, but the script was cliché-ridden, in regards to both plot points and characterization. It wasn’t a very exciting story all in all. The plot focused on a handful of major characters, but to get any details on the other twenty or so (besides the most basic information) support conversations were needed. These were lengthy conversations mid-battle between two characters that parlayed back-story, and sometimes a faint amount of character growth.
Had I not had another person playing alongside me, I imagine the predictable story and flat characterization wouldn’t have been enough to entice me to complete the game. However, the meat and potatoes of the game if you will, is the gameplay. As a commander of a small military squad, players had to scout out the battlefield, figure out a suitable composition of unit classes, and ultimately outperform the opposition.
I think the biggest reason I was successful playing the game this time around, was thoroughness. I took everything into consideration. Before battles, I’d carefully plan out who I wanted to fight, aiming to keep everyone about the same level. In battles, I’d keep everyone together for the most part, having a squad with a strong perimeter. Some weapons and magic were more effective against others so I’d check the equipment of enemy units to make sure I was sending in someone who could handle the enemy and hopefully have an offensive or defensive advantage. I’d also pay very close attention to the enemies’ movement range, hoping to not push my units too far into enemy territory too quickly. Without this thoroughness, I wouldn’t have beaten the game.
There’s a lot of diversity in the battlegrounds and the enemy forces meaning that players can’t milk a strategy for too long – they have to continue adapting. Although we spoke about the game weekly and were going through mostly the same content, our squads were made up of different characters. Our different “all-stars” led to slightly different strategies for battles. This was especially true later in the game since we had spent a lot of effort leveling and classing up different characters. It provided us a great deal to talk about and opened my eyes to how the game could be tackled in a multitude of ways. My disdain for the genre was partially born of my opinion that these games were meant to be tackled in a very specific manner, with little room for variation or improvisation.
Thanks to the zeitgeist surrounding Fire Emblem: Awakening, I wanted to give the TRPG genre another chance. I’m glad I did as playing Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones alongside a friend was enjoyable. I found little to compel me forward with its narrative and characterization, but its gameplay was both challenging and rewarding. I can think of little else in a video game that is as rewarding as winning a 2½ hour battle, adapting to every gameplay system, mechanic, and enemy unit thrown at me, and to do so without losing a single character. I’m not necessarily brimming to jump into another TRPG, but I’m happy to look at the genre with new eyes.
The resurrection of Dracula isn’t enough to deter feelings of resentment and rivalry in Hugh Baldwin. The young vampire hunter is distraught after his father, Morris Baldwin, gave his treasured Hunter Whip to Nathan Graves, the protagonist of Castlevania: Circle of the Moon. The three arrive too late to the Austrian castle where Dracula is being revived. The dark lord captures Morris and isolates himself from the two young apprentices.
Rather than seek out their mentor together, Hugh sets off on his own wanting to prove himself to his father. Hugh’s sour feelings are brought up multiple times as the player encounters him while exploring the castle, but there’s no depth to this plot. Ultimately, Hugh realizes the darkness in his soul would be his downfall and redeems himself. Lackluster story or not, it’s all supplementary to the player’s exploration of Dracula’s castle.
Exploration has been one of the hallmarks of the Castlevania franchise since the beginning and Circle of the Moon retains this element. Dracula’s castle is both expansive and limiting and the same time. The player is limited from outright exploring every area due to obstacles that cannot be overcome until a required item is unlocked. There are many such roadblocks to progression forcing the player to explore the castle sections at a time. Still, the player has much freedom to wander about and discover rooms with stat boosters and tougher enemies. The design methodology seems to encourage players to spend time exploring while preventing them from encountering enemies much too tough for them.
As players traverse Dracula’s castle and defeat enemies, Nathan levels up and becomes stronger and more resilient. Players also have a few options for customization by equipping different pieces of gear or making use of Circle of the Moon’s unique Dual Set-up System. The gameplay draw for this Castlevania game, the DSS, allows users to combine magical cards they’ve come across to enhance their combat proweress. By combining an action card and an attribute card, players can unleash special attacks or increase their stats. I wasn’t impressed with the system for the majority of the game, tending to rely on a combination for many hours without alternating. As Nathan’s quest became more difficult though, I experimented more and by the final battle with Dracula, I was switching between three combinations depending on the circumstances.
Apparently the score is mostly composed of songs from past games in the series, slightly revamped. I’m not intelligible enough in regards to the series to say whether or not these versions are better, but I can say that I sought out a few of the tracks and put them on my iPod I liked them so much. “Awake” was introduced in Circle of the Moon, “The Sinking Old Sanctuary” is from the Genesis game Castlevania: Bloodlines and “Clockwork” is from the NES game Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. I would’ve embedded them, but WordPress doesn’t allow mp3s, so I’ll just say search them out.
Castlevania: Circle of the Moon was on the receiving end of some controversy in the late 2000s when Mr. Castlevania himself Koji Igarashi struck the game from the primary timeline. This action is something only the most fervent fans will care about, but it sent a message that Circle of the Moon was not as respected other titles. (Perhaps this was personal though as IGA didn’t have any involvement.) Still, Circle of the Moon is well enough worthy of the Castlevania moniker – it’s a superb action game.