Tag Archives: jrpg

Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth [PSP] – Review

There's hidden depth to this game and perhaps it's my loss for not discovering it soon enough.
There’s hidden depth to this game and perhaps it’s my loss for not discovering it soon enough.

http://www.joystiq.com/2013/03/15/remembering-my-favorite-rpg-valkyrie-profile/

I’m going to approach this article a little differently than I usually do. The above is a link to a Joystiq article by Kat Bailey wherein she discusses her love for Valkyrie Profile. Coincidentally, I had quit playing Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth, the PSP remake, only a few days before she posted this article. After spending about thirteen hours with the game, I decided it wasn’t for me. Today, I’m going to riff off her article and try to get the core of what exactly it was about this game that didn’t appeal to me.

What Kat really dives into first is the combat system. She describes it as it is – “fun, fast, and interesting to look at” and I agree, but more so when she considers it serviceable. She doesn’t linger on it long and neither does the game. It’s a combat system that lacks much depth. In my time with the game I kept waiting for combat to expand and it never really did.

Towards the end of my tryst with the game, I began to see promise in the form of new skills. These augmented my roster of characters in many ways, but why didn’t I see more of these in the first third of the game? It would’ve given me more desire to customize my crew and maybe look forward to battles. There were many passive skills that increased stats with many more that seemed to only impact my ranking for sending characters to Asgard – a concept that’s barely discussed. The combat and support skills that began appearing after a dozen hours, I wish, would’ve appeared sooner.

Each face button represented a character in battle.
Each face button represented a character in battle.

As she continues, Kat begins discussing the role of the plot in the game and the dueling narratives. In regards to the overall story of Ragnarok, it’s very straightforward. Lenneth is on a quest to recruit einherjar to defend Asgard in the impending end of days. The subplots of Lenneth’s past and deeper truths of other important concepts in the game are present, and intentionally obtuse. Kat describes this subplot information as “bad game design” as it’s there for the player to experience but the main narrative misleads the player. I highly agree and would add that the game really doesn’t explain much about the subplot.

I do like the concept of the game misleading the player to believe an untruth, but I find it curious that these subplots are present, but there isn’t anyone advocating these paths to the player. I guess the player is expected to stumble upon these encounters, which isn’t guaranteed because of the game’s structure. Granted, in my time spent I only had a few encounters that were related, but they explained nothing! I suppose that’s to be expected in the first third of the game – questions, not answers – but, honestly, barely anything is explained in this game.

This sounds like it could foreshadow a solution to a later puzzle.
This sounds like it could foreshadow a solution to a later puzzle.

Perhaps, the biggest detractor to Valkyrie Profile was its lack of explanations in regards to pretty much anything be it a gameplay mechanic or story beat. That being said, I was dissatisfied with the lack of attention devoted to the, admittedly, large roster of characters. Besides the initial recruitment cutscene, there was little attention paid to them again. I also felt limited by the game’s structure. Divided into chapters and further into periods, entering towns and dungeons became a commodity as I did cost benefit analysis to determine whether or not to take a certain action. After a few hours though, I didn’t really want to explore because towns offered me nothing and dungeons were hardly any better. The combat was unimpressive in the first third of the game as well. So ultimately it was a combination of EVERYTHING that left me ambivalent towards seeing how Ragnarok played out.

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MS Saga: A New Dawn – First Impressions

Did Bandai attempt to obscure the link between the Gundam franchise with the game’s title? Never mind the mobile suits in the background…

Distilling MS Saga: A New Dawn to its most basic pieces is pretty easy, even after playing the game for only twenty or so minutes. Before I do that though, let me give some background information. MS Saga is a role-playing game for the PlayStation 2 based off of the Gundam franchise. It was released in North America on February 21, 2006 and was developed and published by Bandai. As it’s based off of the long-running anime series, mobile suits are abound, however it tells an original story. Now, onto a succinct distillation.

For starters, the gameplay is very traditional, and by that I mean basic. According to Wikipedia, the game was designed to be accessible to an audience unfamiliar with Gundam. I’d also add that it was designed to be accessible to those unfamiliar with RPGs because the combat seems ripped from a fifteen year old game, which isn’t bad. Bandai didn’t need to set the world on fire with a video game based off of a preexisting property. Instead they built a simple RPG around that property, and that works for me. I’m not an avid fan of Gundam and I like that MS Saga is easy to get into. Sometimes, I just want a simple RPG to play, one that I can casually play while listening to a podcast, all the while still going through the motions of character development and advancement.

Because I barely played MS Saga, I can’t comment on the worth of the characters or their surrounding world. Still, it took me by surprise when I realized that the protagonist was a male when he looked like a female. Androgyny aside, I imagine that like the gameplay, MS Saga is filled with characters and scenarios I’ve seen before. With the exception of piloting giant human-like mecha that is.

Come on mom, just gimme the keys to the mobile suit!

Mobile Suit Gundam is one of the most influential anime series out there, but in the video game realm, the Gundam franchise has been anything but influential. The franchise has been incredibly prevalent, appearing on many systems with many releases, and from what I can remember, games were generally received lukewarmly and that sums up my feelings regarding MS Saga: A New Dawn.

Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean – First Impressions

No, Baten Kaitos isn’t a jumble of made up words; it’s Arabic for belly of the sea monster and another name for the star Zeta Ceti.

Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean is a role-playing game released in late 2004 for the GameCube. It was co-developed by Monolith Soft (known for the Xenosaga series and the recently released Xenoblade Chronicles) and tri-Crescendo (Eternal Sonata) and published by Namco. The game is a story of revenge for Kalas, the primary protagonist but it also focuses on his (and his compatriots) quest to save the world. I didn’t find the story or characters interesting, but what’s exceptional about the game is its card-based battle system, which could’ve been its biggest liability.

Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean takes place in a fantastical world, a world where landmasses float in the sky, oceans are a thing of legend, and the human inhabitants have wings. The young adult Kalas is on a mission of revenge as he searches for the murderer of his brother and grandfather. He believes the person responsible is a soldier in the imperialistic Alfard Empire. The game begins as he awakens, confused but not suffering from amnesia, in a remote village. Soon after this point, he meets Xelha, a kind but mysterious girl who believes the Empire is on the verge of unleashing a great evil. Although Kalas believes he has no need for her, they join together as their goals run a similar course.

At the point I finished (about a dozen hours in), I had met a third party member: a rural fisherman named Gibari. He was beefed up and helpful in the rural town I found him in, but he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. Beyond those three, I can’t comment on anyone else as I didn’t sink enough time into the game to meet anyone else. After joining up with Xelha, I visited another town or two and trekked through a few enemy-riddled areas, but the main focus was the routine run-ins with the Empire, which helped narrow the protagonists’ motives.

There wasn’t a ton of discussion regarding the character’s wings, and they rarely used them.

I don’t really have an opinion on the general story because I only played it for a dozen or so hours, but in that time span I already knew that I didn’t like Kalas. He was off-putting from the get go with his lack of respect for others and rudeness. Of course, naïve characters are the norm for role-playing games of this ilk; I’m sure that over the course of the estimated sixty hours of gameplay, he would mature and grow as a person. A lot of my opinion of him (and others) was based on the poor voice acting and that didn’t help in forming my opinion. It’s not necessarily that characters over or under act, instead my grievance lies with the quality of the audio – it sounds like I’m listening to people in a sound booth, as if whatever audio mixing that would remove this aura wasn’t done.

On the back of the game’s box is a quote from Nintendo Power: “It’s possibly the most beautiful GCN title ever made,” which I’d have to agree with. The game’s locales are like paintings that you walk around in, or like the PlayStation 1 era Final Fantasy games; they feature a fixed camera perspective with no player control of it. The pre-rendered backgrounds of the towns are intricately detailed and will often have animated bits and pieces, but because I wasn’t able to control the camera, navigating these areas was sometimes less than great; for instance when Kalas would walk into the background and shrink to signify distance from the camera. This isn’t a problem with Baten Kaitos, it’s just a style that I don’t prefer.

As the land masses reside in the sky, clouds were occasionally a nuisance.

What makes Baten Kaitos unique compared to other RPGs is its reliance on Magnus (playing cards) for items, attacks, equipment, and just about anything else. Each character had a deck of cards that they used in battles. As they leveled up, the amount of cards they could put into it, as well as their hand size in battles grew.

Battles revolved around each character’s deck of Magnus. A good deck would contain a mixture of offensive, defensive, and healing cards that were suited to take advantage of enemies’ elemental weaknesses. In battles, characters would have a hand of cards and I’d try my best to link them together to create optimal attacks and defensive maneuvers. I found that if I didn’t suit my deck to each area and continually keep it fresh, I wouldn’t advance.

The Magnus weren’t just used in battles though; they were used in place of items too. Special Magnus could capture the essence of an item, say water, and I could then use that Magnus to solve a puzzle, such as putting out a fire. I had to be careful with Magnus however, as the cards would age and their properties would change. For instance, if I had a Magnus with green bananas on it, as time passed, the bananas would ripen and the card’s effect would change. This aspect of the Magnus kept me on my toes and was in some instances, annoying.

An important aspect of battles and deck building was to try and use cards that had similar numbers. For instance using three cards with the same number yielded bonuses.

Card-battling games have a reputation for being obtuse, complicated, and slow-paced. Of course, they’re also known for requiring strategy, skill, and a little luck. What’s great about Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean is that it takes the best things about card-battling games: strategy in deck building, skillful combinations of cards, and a little luck of the draw, while reducing the negatives by speeding up the battle system and easing players into the extensive number of Magnus. It may not have captured my attention for too long, but damned if I didn’t absolutely enjoy its battle system.

Phantasy Star – Review

Looking at the box art, you wouldn't guess that the game is sci-fi.

Originally released for the Sega Master System in 1988, Phantasy Star was Sega’s attempt to duplicate the role-playing game format standardized by Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. Unlike those games, Phantasy Star is set in the future and in space, although the execution of this setting is poor (treasure chests and fantasy outfits). Still, for those interested in a challenging quest that requires heavy player involvement with little narrative reward, Phantasy Star shouldn’t be overlooked in favor of the previously mentioned titans of the genre.

As Alis watches her brother die, she listens to his final request: kill the evil king Lassic and set things right in the Algol Solar System. Alis’ quest for revenge begins on the forest rich Palma, continues on the arid Motavia, and leads her to the icy Dezoris before finally heading back to Palma and defeating Lassic. Along the way she builds a party of like-minded individuals including the feline Myau, Odin, a warrior turned to stone by Medusa, and the wizard Noah. Getting these adventurers to join Alis’ party was no easy task however.

Gathering leads on these individuals required Alis to chat up everyone she met, and required me to keep a record of what they said. Heck, without the NPCs doling out such vital information, I’d have little reference for towns and dungeons, items, and even where I should be heading. Phantasy Star wasn’t a game I could passively enjoy; if I didn’t keep a record of acquired knowledge or chart out maps on paper, I’d never have beaten Phantasy Star without resorting to a FAQ, which I still did.

Trouble resides in that mansion...

Like every other console RPG from the era, I viewed towns and the overworld from a top-down perspective, granting me a large view of the game at a time. But, when Alis entered dungeons the perspective changed and I saw them from her eyes. Without a large view of dungeons, I had a hard time navigating them without getting lost. Some were small enough that I could get through them without much trouble, yet others were so large and filled with traps that it’d take hours if I persisted with trial and error.

An RPG like Phantasy Star wouldn’t be complete without battles and character progression and it has both! Like its contemporaries, Phantasy Star has a simplistic battle system. Battles occurred randomly as I explored the overworld and caves, and these were also viewed from the first-person perspective. I had few options and the two that really mattered were fight and magic. I had multiple types of magic; what I found most effective was the healing kind although there were helpful spells that exited my party from caves or returned them to towns; on top of powerful damage dealing magic. The order of events seemed fairly random, sometimes I’d attack an enemy first, while other times I’d fight the exact same enemy type and they’d attack first; characters had no speed stat.

I didn’t find the early portion of the game very enjoyable. When I started out, my party consisted solely of Alis and in her early state she could only fight a couple of battles before having to be healed. As I accumulated better equipment and experience enemies began fearing me. Especially once I increased my party size. Grinding for experience and mesetas (money) took up most of my time with the game, and that’s just how these older games are. It’s not a bad thing; in fact once my party could withstand a lot of punishment and equally deal it out I enjoyed returning to caves and building up a small fortune. But doing that over the course of twenty or so hours doesn’t appeal to everyone and in fact I ran out of steam at the end of the game.

Dragons were a handful early on, but my party was able to wipe the floor with them eventually.

I liked exploring the caves from the first-person perspective. It seems like a remarkable technical feat considering when Phantasy Star came out. But, keeping track of where I was, was very difficult, especially when caves began growing in size and they had trap floors dropping me a level. I also enjoyed having to personally piece together what my next step was through NPCs, although the lack of character or plot development wasn’t what enticed me to continue playing, it was strengthening my characters. I battled and battled and battled some more and empowered my party to great strengths and this was pleasurable. Battles were very simple, but I was able to speed through the menus and overpower enemies once my party members were of high levels and equipped with good gear. I did run out of steam in the end however. I tend to do that, probably because I’ve proven my strength in the game and the payoff I’ll get for completing an “ancient” RPG like Phantasy Star won’t be revelatory. Still, Phantasy Star was enjoyable, as long as I had the gumption to get involved.

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

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.