I’ve wanted to play CIMA: The Enemy since reading about in Nintendo Power around its November 2003 release. It’s a “bucket list” game in that sense, in this case personal rather than universally agreed upon. Initially, it was such a disappointment as my perception of it had been as a more straightforward action-RPG (perhaps in spite of the marketing that touted it as something new and unique). About three hours in, I was ready to call it quits. I planned on writing a scathing first impressions article since my experience to that point had been mostly unenjoyable. Around this time though, things clicked. My understanding of the various gameplay systems coalesced and I was able to successfully execute plans. It was formulaic to a fault and routinely frustrating but I’m glad I saw it through to the end, if anything for closure. Continue reading CIMA: The Enemy [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.
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!
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.
The most notable aspect of Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu is that it marked a first for the Batman franchise: the first time a major character was debuted in a video game. It has been nine years since the game’s release though, and I’m not aware of the villain Sin Tzu gaining much traction; I mean, I’ve only ever heard of him in the context of this video game, albeit, I’m not especially well versed in the Batman universe. Debuting in a mediocre beat ‘em up probably didn’t help his chances at stardom though.
Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu is an Ubisoft Montreal developed, Ubisoft published beat ‘em up from 2003. It was released for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, and Game Boy Advance, and while I only played the GameCube version, I’m sure the PS2 and Xbox versions are identical. My friend and I played through what I believe constitutes the first quarter of the game, and I speak for both us when I say Rise of Sin Tzu was underwhelming.
The game revolves around on the eponymous hero defending Gotham City from the eponymous villain. Sin Tzu has formed an alliance with Scarecrow, Clayface, and Bane and they’re wreaking havoc. With the assistance of Robin, Batgirl, and Nightwing, Batman sets out to defend Gotham City from these baddies. Although there are four heroes, the game only supports co-operative play for two, a glaring omission. On the bright side, those two extra players won’t be subjected to the tepid gameplay.
Each hero had slightly different stats and had a wealth of combos to execute, yet I was content to just mash the punch or kick button. The combos were differentiated by timed button presses, although they weren’t starkly different. Special moves could be unlocked using earned points which could also be spent on bonus features like toys or comic book covers. My friend and I played through the first quarter of the game, toppling Scarecrow, and besides the lame combat, the bland level design and poor camera left us unfulfilled.
Stages lasted about ten minutes and tasked us with fighting through groups of Scarecrow’s henchmen. Opposition was light early on but they eventually began using Scarecrow’s gas on us. It affected the camera, making it very wavy, but not problematic like the occasional event of the camera getting hung up on a corner. Still the biggest detriment to our enjoyment was the bland level design. We’d plod down unchanging Gotham City streets, encountering groups of henchmen, but no real excitement. This was compounded by the weak combat and the drab graphics.
Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu is a mediocre beat ‘em up that will likely only be remembered for debuting a character into the franchise.
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.