Tag Archives: jrpg

Soul Blazer – Review

What a wicked sword dude.

It’s not every day I have a half-off coupon to my favorite video game store. So when I received one I used it wisely and picked up a relatively expensive Super Nintendo RPG. I decided on Soul Blazer, a game I had no previous knowledge of. More specifically, it was an action-RPG developed by Quintet and published by Enix for the SNES in 1992. I thought it had a simple plot and simple gameplay, but it was exciting to return life back to the world of the Freil Empire.

Primarily a tale of greed, Soul Blazer at first has a shallow plot, but it gets interesting. The king of the Freil Empire has captured a famous inventor and forced him to create a machine that allows the king to communicate with a seriously bad dude, Deathtoll. Deathtoll wants souls and the king wants money so they strike a deal, souls for money. Here’s where the player character comes in.

The player character, the soul blazer is sent down from the heavens by The Master to remedy the situation in the Freil Empire. As the soul blazer I was capable of defeating the numerous monsters throughout the dungeons of the empire as well as communicating with the souls I released.

The stages ran the gamut from sea floor to snowy mountains to space.

There were seven stages in all and I thought the way they were structured was interesting. Each stage was basically a village with access to a dungeon or two. The first stage was a mining town with a mine serving as the dungeon. The second stage was a settlement in the woods of woodland creatures, and so on; the stages were diverse and they contained all sorts of different creatures.

Like the villages, the dungeons were set in interesting locales; one on a model town and another in a fantastically rendered version of space were my favorites. The dungeons were very straightforward and not very difficult. I followed the path and killed monsters as they spawned from portals. Once the portals were depleted, they changed into a switch that would release a creature back in the village.

There wasn’t any puzzle solving in the dungeons, I just followed the path and killed any monster I came upon. The villages on the other hand did require a bit of thinking. After freeing creatures and restoring the stages to their original glory, I could chat with the creatures and sometimes get some info on a stronger sword, better armor, the location of magic, or a necessary item.

The bosses were challenging and required strafing, lots of strafing.

For the most part, Soul Blazer wasn’t very challenging. The monsters were really dumb, basically walking into my sword and the dungeons were quickly completed, about an hour for each. The bosses on the other hand were challenging, but not excessively difficult.  The only puzzle solving that was tricky came at the very end when I had to retread a few of the earlier dungeons defeating previously indestructible enemies. But my favorite part of the game would have to be the soundtrack. I thought it was phenomenal and hummed along with practically every track. Soul Blazer was a good game and in the end, well worth using a half-off coupon.

3/5

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Grandia II – Review

Ryudo Upfront with the Supporting Cast in the Background.

With Grandia II, Game Arts took the formula they implemented in Grandia, simply iterated upon it, which works with me, I loved Grandia and it creates another fantastic Japanese role-playing game with a fun battle system and compelling story. Grandia II, as with Grandia, is set in a, mostly, bright and colorful world.

If I were to condense the themes presented in Grandia, I’d say it focused on adventure and discovery, of exploring unknown territories and learning about new cultures. Grandia II on the other hand focuses more on our spiritual relationships and the role and impact of religion in the world. Grandia II is the story of Ryudo, a gun-for-hire and Elena, a songstress in the Church of Granas. Ryudo is hired to be her bodyguard, but things go awry early on and they soon learn that Valmar (the evil god and Granas’ opposite) could reawaken and bring destruction to their world, what’s more, Elena is possessed by a piece of Valmar, which manifests itself occasionally, and transforms Elena into Millenia. This shape shifting element is interesting and provides for a character that is the polar opposite of Elena, like Granas to Valmar. Throughout the game they meet new party members who give a taste of the different regions in the game and are generally likeable. This wasn’t the case with Ryudo; at first he was a prick and very ignorant of others; the way he responded to peoples questions and concerns was off-putting, but as the game progressed, he became more comfortable with the people around him and as the on-going situations evolved, he revealed more about himself and became a more likeable character. Like, Grandia, Grandia II is light-hearted for the most part, with plenty of humor and fun gameplay, although the progression appears very formulaic, town, dungeon, town dungeon, etc.

Throughout the game, the story unraveled more and more, finally reaching a crescendo of understanding and going pass that crescendo into a surprising twist in lore. Grandia II is a more succinct adventure than Grandia with the game lacking in extra content. There isn’t any reason to go back and play more when done , there isn’t a new game plus mode, and the way the game ends it’s sort of hard to anyways, which is a shame because as with Grandia, I would still go back and battle more If I could.

The battle system, originating in Grandia takes turn-based battles, and added an element of real-time choice to it, creating a satisfying blend of action, which hit a spot in my psyche that loves being in control. The battle system has changed very little from Grandia. There are only a few things off the top of my head that I can think of that changed from Grandia to Grandia II. Instead of leveling up magic and special skills through use, you now attribute points to the individual moves. I thought it very clever in Grandia that special moves and magic leveled up and became stronger through use, thus, I used stat boosting/reducing spells more than I normally would in another JRPG. Also, instead of learning new magic spells by reaching certain requirements with certain elements of magic, in Grandia II you receive eggs which contain 18 preselected spells. There are more eggs than party members so there is always ample choice.

Noriyuki Iwadare returns as the composer and I enjoy his soundtracks a great deal. They are lighthearted and fun, which matches the general tone of Grandia II. Although there are, darker sections of the game, his compositions match the feeling, often, if not always. Familiar tonal themes are repeated throughout the game, with the actual compositions changing up slightly. I can see many people listening to the soundtrack and thinking it is quite cheesy with his ample use of electrical guitar, but I find it befitting the action and look of the game. The appearance, like in Grandia, is very appealing to me; the game is very bright, set in a, mostly, colorful world, with anime-like character designs–this is from Japan after all. The voice acting is fine, although what bugs me is that it isn’t totally voice-acted, barely any is, and this inconsistency always bothers me. The CG is also infrequent, and in most cases, very poor. The CG for cutscenes is almost laughably bad and strangely grainy, but when it is implemented into the higher level magic and special moves, the blend of normal graphics and CG or animation provides a unique clash that, at first seemed off putting, but quickly grew on me.

Grandia II was initially released on the Dreamcast in 2000, and then later ported to the PlayStation 2 and PC in 2002. I completed the Dreamcast version, played a bit of the PS2 version, and didn’t play the PC version. The Dreamcast version comes with a soundtrack CD that has twelve tracks of Grandia II related music, and I say related only because there are two remixes not present in the game. I enjoyed the selections and thought they provided a good cross section of Noriyuki Iwadare’s work here. The PS2 version included new CG cutscenes which take advantage of the hardware better, but still have the aspect of clashing with other aspects of the game. I played the PS2 version on a PlayStation 3 and due to this the game looked much crisper; this would probably be the way to play it. The PS2 version didn’t come with anything extra although the manual is very detailed. One of the main complaints against the PS2 version at its release was a poor port job, with the game hitching at times, I didn’t play very much of it, but did notice the game slowed down at points, but never when it mattered.

Grandia II is one of the finest games on the Dreamcast, and a fine Japanese role-playing game. With a well paced story and an incredible battle system, it’s worth seeking out if you’re a fan of JRPGs.

Final Fantasy III – Review

 

 

The familiar design harkens back to the “good old days” of Final Fantasy.

 

Final Fantasy III is very traditional; then again, it originally came out in 1990. Within the first hour I had all of my party members and knew the ultimate goal I was aiming for. Luneth, the primary protagonist falls in a hole right away and finds out he is one of the chosen four, destined to save the world. His town elder knew this and when you return back to your hometown, they send you off with a few paragraphs. There isn’t the need for excessive exposition here. All you need to know is what the end goal is, what you’re doing in the current dungeon/town, and how to win battles.

It seems that Final Fantasy is renowned for being a series that one can turn to if they want a detailed or captivating story, and in this aspect, Final Fantasy III is very disappointing. The dearth of detail in the story turned me off; it’s a reason I play video games, and specifically, RPGs. The characters were stiff and lacked detailed personalities, the story was eventful, but nothing ever seemed impactful, a good job wasn’t done on making it seem like every action was necessary. Most of my time spent was zoning out and just battling to progress, and that’s the way I ended up playing the majority of it. I’d plug in a podcast, nothing against the soundtrack which I liked, and play it in bed before falling asleep, and I had a lot of fun playing it like this as I usually do with handheld games.

The party getting information on an early event.

The battle system is simple, lacking complexity, which works. Battles are easy to understand and with the ample amount of job classes, there is a variety of strategies available. Final Fantasy III did a good job of requiring me to try out multiple classes. Some dungeons would contain enemies that would resist physical damage, presenting the need to have your party deal nonphysical damage, via magic with mages or summoning, um… summons with, um… summoners. There were quite a lot of situations like this where you had to move out of your comfort zone; whereas I would usually keep my party full of physical attackers and a white mage for healing, I experienced many different jobs, and by the end of the game, I had a diverse party, with at least half of my party being a class I wouldn’t ordinarily pick.

One complaint I did have in regards to battling was the amount of grinding required towards the end. Throughout most of the game, I’d wager I was a level or two above where I needed to be, and it stayed like this up towards the final dungeon. After losing to the final boss a couple of times, I fought enemies within the last section of the game for at least five hours to level; this difficulty spike is not uncommon with games like this, but was nonetheless annoying when I knew the outcome of the game and only wanted to complete it at

The party battling it out against some early enemies.

this point, granted I handled the final boss ably, but still! This aspect also brought up another annoyance, the save system. The ability to save anytime on the world map is practically a requirement, however there is also a quick save option that allows you to save anywhere, but the save will be deleted when you return. Instead of implementing the ability to save anytime and keep that save, the developers have opted to keep the original spirit of the game intact, for instance, let’s say you’ve been grinding for an hour in the final dungeon and stumble upon an enemy that wipes you out, there went that progress. While this is aggravating, it’s also something that makes you adapt and from that point on, I was exceptionally cautious, and in a way, this difficulty is enjoyable and helps in keeping the game feel as it originally did.

There was no emphasis placed on totally remaking the game for today’s audience, which probably would’ve aged it in different ways as it’s been on the market for four years now, it’s the original Final Fantasy III, slightly redid. If you can appreciate a game designed in 1990, check out Final Fantasy III; it provides a lengthy quest that is sparse with detail, but a fun battle system that is easy to watch the time fly by with.

Record of Lodoss War – Review

The US box art for Record of Lodoss War.

Well I think I’m done with Record of Lodoss War. I’ve been playing it off and on for about two weeks now and I’ve had it. It’s a frustrating game where death is frequent; I must’ve saved every three minutes in the seven hours I’ve logged, and you know what I’ve just realized? There isn’t a good enough sense of payoff for me to continue playing, so I’ll stop.

Record of Lodoss War is an action RPG, developed by Neverland and released on the Dreamcast in early 2001 here in the US. The game is based off of a Japanese anime/manga and having no previous experience I’m unaware how, if at all, this relates to the source material. Judging from the setup though, it seems that the game is meant as a side or alternate story. You control The Hero, who has been brought back from the dead. A bad dude has been doing some bad stuff, like deciding to revive an ancient beast that will do his bidding and destroy, destroy, destroy. This is why The Hero has been resurrected, you see, in his past life he was a great warrior and a wise wizard believes he’ll be able to stop this evil. This wizard, Wart, initially sets you up to take over a goblin settlement which then becomes home base, a safe spot to return and do some blacksmithing. The Hero’s quest is ultimately to stop all the bad guys and as far as I proceeded on his quest, I met a few allies and visited a couple of towns and plenty of dungeons. The story seemed dense with detail and it would appear that knowing more about the source material would lighten the load but regardless, the story didn’t capture my interest.

Talking about the gameplay, Record of Lodoss War shares a lot with Diablo. You control The Hero in real time, explore dungeons, do some blacksmithing, etc. Battling enemies usually ended up a frustrating experience. I’d line up next to an enemy and start wailing away on the attack button, watching my health bar and if it got too low, I’d drink a potion. In the event that I ran out of potions, which happened all the time, I’d use the Recall spell to warp back to home base, refill, and warp back to then rinse and repeat. In the event that I was overwhelmed with enemies, which also happened all the time, the game slows down to a crawl and at this point it becomes easy to get trapped in a corner and die. This process led to many deaths and loss of progress, as I thought I’d be okay and go awhile without saving only to run into a strong enemy or get overwhelmed; this process was frustrating, but necessary to advancing.

The Hero battling some skeleton archers.

Equipment and loot is a big part of dungeon crawlers and Record of Lodoss War disappoints. In my time with the game, I rarely happened upon loot dropped by enemies and the loot that I found in dungeons, I generally passed on. At the home base is a blacksmith to whom you can take your equipment and add ancient inscriptions which add stat boosts and special attacks. Adding these effects seemed helpful, if only incrementally and overall the blacksmith wasn’t much assistance, nor was there much depth to blacksmithing. Without this sense of continually upgrading my character, I’ve lost the will to continue playing the game and whenever I’d battle enemies and have it take forever to defeat them, I felt weak, as if I’d been cheated on the equipment available to me. Exploration wasn’t fulfilling either, the few dungeons I’d been in seem very gray, in fact the game as a whole feels very gray. The game has gotten to be more frustrating than fun and even if I had some connection with the source material, I can’t imagine I’d want to continue playing based solely on the story Record of Lodoss War presents.

At this point the price for Record of Lodoss War is relatively expensive; a quick search of Amazon and eBay says you’ll have to pay around twenty-five dollars for a used copy. The manual contains great information, but there isn’t anything outstanding about the overall package. Others might have more patience with Record of Lodoss War, but if you’re searching for an RPG for the Dreamcast, or just an older RPG to check out, there are many better options.

Avalon Code – First Impressions

Avalon Code wallpaper from the official site.

Avalon Code’s premise is initially, very awe-inspiring. The world is going to end soon, but there is a book, The Book of Prophecy, that can capture anything and will remake whatever it contains. Once captured, you can adjust the properties of that thing, be it a person, a key or an enemy and alter it to solve puzzles or assist in battles. Most everything related to The Book of Prophecy is fun and unique; however the actual gameplay was tedious and turned me off after a few hours.

With The Book of Prophecy you are tasked to scan anything that you possibly can. The theory is that the book will aid in the creation of the new world and remake whatever’s inside. But this also adds a clever puzzle element to the game. Whenever you scan something in, it gets its own page. Each thing has a nine by nine grid which contains traits that make that thing up. So a flower for instance might have something forest or nature related and a fire creature might have an evil trait as well as something fire related. This led to some clever, albeit simple, puzzles early on like having to attach a forest element to a key to open a lock. These traits come in different shapes and piecing them in is reminiscent of Tetris. Every time something is added or subtracted, the page is reassessed and it leads to a short load time, which can add up when just experimenting and ultimately turned me away from changing the properties of anything I came across, unless it was necessary

Fighting a Dire Bat in Avalon Code, notice The Book of Prophecy on the lower screen and the info it holds about the enemy.

Outside of The Book of Prophecy you control a male or female character and travel between towns and dungeons, interacting with NPCs and fighting monsters. Rather than a turn-based battle system, Matrix Software opted for real-time action, which makes sense with The Book of Prophecy. Whenever I saw an enemy I generally scanned it in and then began to adjust the enemy’s traits, looking for something that would drop it’s hit points and then I’d attack; the game will pause when you’re using The Book of Prophecy, which takes up the bottom screen. Combat is simple, attacking with either your left or right hand, and enemies respawned as soon they died which discouraged me to even bother fighting them after a few times.

As far as I got, each dungeon progressed the same. They were divided into individual rooms which had tasks and time limits. You were given a task, such as light all candles, and once completed, the door to the next room would open; there were interesting tasks that required The Book of Prophecy but the majority of them were simple. Ultimately this made dungeons feel like a collection of minigames and this turned me off more than anything else I saw in the game.

I only clocked in three hours so I wasn’t able to see what Avalon Code has to offer, but it didn’t hold my interest in that short amount of time. The game is backed by an interesting gameplay mechanic that sets it apart from other games, but Avalon Code’s gameplay became tedious quickly. If it counts for anything though, I am still looking forward to playing more of Avalon Code at some point.

Grandia – Review

The title card for Grandia.

That Grandia was released recently on the PlayStation Network is a coincidence to my play through of the game. I had purchased it earlier in the year and finally got around to playing it, coincidentally it was released on the PSN a week or so later so this review is relatively timely. Prior to my play through of Grandia, my only other experience with the series was a play through of Grandia II on the Dreamcast which I remember loving, but I’m unsure if I finished it. Personally I’m a fan of more action-orientated RPGs and Grandia is one of, if not the best.

Grandia opens up in a somewhat bustling port town and quickly introduces the player to Justin and Sue, two young kids who are playful and not very serious. Nevertheless Justin is intent on becoming an adventurer like his father and Sue would follow Justin anywhere so she’s up for it as well. While the initial premise for the game is one that is often used, the game’s story gets deeper as Justin and crew learn of a mysterious ancient civilization that once perished. As they search for this ancient civilization they run into trouble with an army lead by a power monger and go through a few non-permanent party members. The story is very light and comedic, with an overarching sense of seriousness.

Justin and Sue standing next to a save point.

Like I said earlier, Grandia is more action-orientated than a traditional turn-based RPG; however this element of control is kind of a façade as the battles are ultimately a turn-based affair. In a dungeon you can see any enemy before battling, as opposed to random encounters; once you’ve run into an enemy or vice versa, you’re shifted into a battle scene. Along the bottom of the screen is a meter that shows icons representing your party members and all enemies; the icons move from left to right until one hits the command point. Here the battle will pause and you can tell that party member what to do. There is still a bit of time before they enact whatever you told them to do and this allows for strategy and planning as you can delay and cancel enemy moves based on when and what attack you hit them with.

There are many options when in battle: normal attacks, critical attacks which delay or potentially cancel depending on when landed, special moves, magic and items. One of the more interesting, and addicting, elements of battling is that every special move and magic attack has its own level that increases as you use it. The characters level relatively slowly but having all of these moves that are going up frequently gave a good sense of progression and feeling of accomplishment. Of course with any RPG that has magic there are elements of strengths and weaknesses but I never paid attention to this facet, probably due to my want to just level up everything, and this worked for me. The battles were fast-paced and fun, I looked forward to battling every enemy and leveling up many different things made me not want to skip out on fights.

Justin, Sue and Feena in a battle.

The soundtrack, like the story, was lighthearted; many of the tracks were quirky, with unusual sounds and upbeat tempos, matching the game’s tone. There were a few standout tracks that I really enjoyed listening to and I can’t say there were any I disliked. The voice acting on the other hand was quite poor. The voice acting was infrequent throughout the game and when there was any, what the characters said, would never seem to match the tone of the situation at that moment. Grandia is set a 3D world, with characters, buildings and other objects being made of 2D sprites. This mixture of old and new (at the time) graphics give it a feeling reminiscent of the “golden age” of the JRPG, while still progressing technologically. I’ve already mentioned that the game’s story and soundtrack were lighthearted and fun, and the look of the game matches. Grandia is set in a colorful world with interesting character designs and locales.

Grandia cost me fifteen dollars and I put fifty-plus hours into it, and had fun the majority of the time. If you’re someone like me, who likes owning a physical copy of your games and having the chance to look through the manual, I’d recommend seeking out a copy of Grandia rather than purchasing it off of the PSN, but maybe do that as well to support it! Grandia’s manual is robust, and while much of it is explaining relatively basic mechanics of the game, which if you haven’t played a Grandia title will be very beneficial, I did get stuck on a boss and consulting it did help me.

I loved Grandia. It’s quickly become one of my favorite JRPGs and even after I beat it, I can imagine wanting to play more to level up the rest of my party’s stats. It’s a long game with rare feelings of tediousness and overall, it was a lighthearted, adventurous romp through a colorful world, which is a great escape from the current market of more adult, serious games.

Pokemon HeartGold – Review

US Box Art
I originally played Gold so I stuck with Ho-Oh for the remakes.

New Pokemon games are out! Kind of; Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver released not too long ago and having played HeartGold a good deal, I feel experienced enough to talk about it. The games are remakes of Pokemon Gold and Silver, which happen to be my favorites in the series. I’d probably say Pokemon Red and Blue are the best since they laid the foundation, but Gold and Silver introduced a lot of things that I thought added to the formula and it was really my first chance to get sucked into the games as soon as everyone else.

You are given the choice of picking one of three Pokemon, which are creatures, like pets, that people fight with in the hopes of becoming the best and/or catching them all. Wait… if you’re reading this I’m going to assume that you know the basic story and mechanics of Pokemon games; these two areas haven’t evolved too much in the main games, and they’re still addictive. If you have tried a Pokemon game and it didn’t click with you, these games won’t convert you and if you’ve been waiting for the next hit, chances are you’ve already picked one of these up.

What I liked a lot about Gold and Silver were them bringing elements of the “real world” into the experience. They ran on a seven day schedule that allowed for special events on certain days and since it also had a 24 hour system, they could happen at specific times. Searching for Pokemon got a little trickier as the ones that seemed like a “night” Pokemon, would appear at night. I remember thinking about the games before they came out originally and was amazed that I’d have to stay up late to play them. Many elements that have been introduced since Gold and Silver have been adapted into HeartGold and SoulSilver like the online battling and online trading, as well as pretty much everything else. I’ve forgotten how the battling and trading worked out in Pokemon Diamond but so far I’ve found it to be halfway simple considering it’s a Nintendo game. I’ll finally be able to catch them all!

US Box Art
Not that Lugia is bad or anything.

Unlike in Diamond, I find that I’m using the touch screen way more, in fact, I’m using it nearly exclusively. Most of the menus seem easier to use, though there are some exceptions like the PC system which I find is not quick to navigate. I love the pop-up book effect that the 3D in the game has but at this point I’m beginning to look less fondly on them not being totally 3D, or at least having the Pokemon be 3D. I could understand that they’d want to save that for the next set of games or, more likely, that having nearly five hundred Pokemon, and hundreds of moves animated and in 3D is too space consuming.

Easily the biggest addition is the Pokewalker. It’s essentially a pedometer that allows you to walk with a Pokemon to level it up and play two minigames that net you items and Pokemon. I’ve been using it ever since I got it and find it to be a fun diversion at work. You can also communicate with other players with it, but overall, it’s too simple to spend more than five or ten minutes with.

You already know if you interested in HeartGold and SoulSilver and I was on the fence since the games were announced but, deep down I knew I was going to get them simply because they’re new Pokemon games and thus far I’ve enjoyed all twenty plus hours I’ve sunk into HeartGold.