Tag Archives: PlayStation

Final Fantasy VI [PlayStation] – Review

Final Fantasy Anthology

I don’t want this review to sound too acrimonious, but I had a lousy experience with Final Fantasy VI. It’s a game I started a couple of times over the past few years, only to burn out early on. By the time I began playing this game, soon after completing the two prior entries, I suffered from a Final Fantasy fatigue. With a few years between my last attempts, I finally restarted this summer and managed to beat it. While I enjoyed much of my playthrough this go-around, my impressions were still negatively colored by those initial burnouts, especially after listening to years of praise for this entry, often cited as the greatest in the series. Opinions are malleable, and mine will undoubtedly grow rosy with the passing of time, but as of this writing I feel this is the weakest Final Fantasy on the Super Nintendo. Continue reading Final Fantasy VI [PlayStation] – Review

Namco Museum Vol. 3 [PlayStation] – Review

Namo Museum Volume 3

For all intents and purposes, this is a review of Namco Museum Vol. 3 for the PlayStation, bearing in mind I’ve played it twice for about an hour total. That being said, I’m confident in knowing what it has to offer based on prior experiences with most of the compiled games. After a fruitful evening of game hunting with a friend, this is the title I subjected us to. Well, that’s what he may describe the experience as but for me, someone who relishes the opportunity to play just about any game, it was an entertaining romp through the past. Considering this is a compilation that only contains six games, it proved to highlight a strong selection of Namco’s arcade lineage.

This, the third installment of the Namco Museum series on the PlayStation, was originally released stateside in early 1997. Most sources point to Now Production handling the development/porting with Namco publishing it here. As mentioned, six arcade games are included: Galaxian, Ms. Pac-Man, Pole Position II, Dig Dug, Phozon, and The Tower of Druaga. Most readers are likely familiar with all but the last two, but the weight is definitely carried by the headliners. Regardless, these are all arcade-faithful ports and the package is buoyed by a virtual museum to walk through, highlighting low resolution scans of the games’ original Japanese marketing materials (plus an entertaining introduction video!).

Namco Museum Volume 3 - Dig Dug
Dig Dug is a cute game with cute names such as Pooka and Fygar.

Of the games included, I’m most familiar with Ms. Pac-Man. That was one of the go-to Super Nintendo games in my household growing up. Heck, even my mom played it with us! She’s actually the reason we had it since she was familiar with the arcade release and knew it’d be more family friendly than say the copy of Killer Instinct that came bundled with our console. The version on display in this compilation is the arcade version, so it’s limited on features compared to the Super Nintendo port I’m used to. Nonetheless, Ms. Pac-Man is a riveting game with or without any bells or whistles. In fact, when my friend and I played, this game in particular sparked a bit of a high score competition.

I was first introduced to Dig Dug through its Xbox Live Arcade release, although I’ve played much more of the Mr. Driller series. A single-screen action game like most of the other games on this compilation, Dig Dug sees players assuming the role of the eponymous Dig Dug (also known as Taizo Hori) as he digs underground in order to defeat the wandering Pookas and Fygars. This can be easily done by exploding them with an air pump, although strategically dropping rocks on them can result in chained kills and extra points. Defeating them further down also yields more points. It’s a straight-forward action game but as described, there’s ways to wring strategic elements from the game to promote score-chasing.

Namco Museum Volume 3 - Galaxian
Galaxian was little more than a Space Invaders copy, although it laid the groundwork for the superb Galaga.

Galaxian is perhaps most succinctly described as a combination of Space Invaders and Galaga. It was, after all, Namco’s heavily inspired attempt at a Space Invaders game and the predecessor to the much improved Galaga. That’s not to say that this isn’t a worthy game in its own right. Namco took the Space Invaders formula and expanded upon it incrementally by designing more aggressive enemies… and adding color. Damn, Galaga is so much better… Destroying the waves of enemies still remains challenging but after the first wave, players will have seen pretty much everything they’re going to see.

Like Galaxian, there’s little to say about Pole Position II. It’s a solid racing game and it runs beautifully although nothing differentiates it from the hundreds of racing games available throughout the 1980s; it’s still a precedent setter. That leaves me with Phozon and The Tower of Druaga. This compilation represented the North American debut of Phozon as it never left Japan when it was released in 1983. I didn’t particularly care for it, although the pseudo-3D rendering of the antagonist looked good. Forgoing the game’s unique verbiage, players control an atom and collect drifting molecules aiming to recreate the shape displayed before each stage. A sole enemy is almost always present and a life is lost if it connects with the player’s atom. Essentially, recreate shapes while playing cat and mouse.

Namco Museum Volume 3 - Phozon
Phozon was a weird one, regardless of the two in the upper-left corner.

Finally, there’s The Tower of Druaga. From the title alone this one sounds epic and it was understandably inspired by Middle Eastern mythology. Controlling the hero Gilgamesh, players are tasked with rescuing Ki from said tower. This plays out across 60 floors of mazes with each floor hosting a locked exit, a key, as well as enemies and treasure. Again, this is a pretty straight-forward game whose difficulty continually increases. I wasn’t able to get too far into the tower but one tip I can share is to hold the attack button. With it held, Gilgamesh keeps his sword drawn and can walk into enemies to defeat them. A marked improvement on simply swinging the sword, trust me.

With there being so many Namco Museum titles nowadays, it’s hard to recommend this one over the more comprehensive collections for newer consoles. Still, at the right price, this is worth snatching up. I have multiple Namco compilations but $0.99 for a loose copy was too good to pass up. I will say I was surprised by the museum content, I wasn’t expecting that and don’t recall similar information in the newer compilations. And that darn introduction video really got me jazzed up too! If anything, I’ll keep my eyes peeled on the other PlayStation Namco Museum releases in the hopes of getting more of that content, if the price is right.

Lastly, here is a video that my friend and I recorded while playing this game. The best part by far is the Ms. Pac-Man competition which commences about halfway through and runs to the end of the video. It’s not very serious, but I still won, and that’s what counts.

Policenauts, Import Games, and a Weekend of Learning

Policenauts

I set about this past weekend with one objective in mind: play an English-patched copy of Policenauts. In the course of attempting this, my task grew into a more general objective of playing import PlayStation and PlayStation 2 games; or rather, attempting to play them. Often, I’ll set about accomplishing something with a strong desire to see the process through only to have that yearning feeling dissipate and highlight a limited attention span and a quick-to-cave attitude. “Not this weekend!” I thought to myself. Although I remained unsuccessful on one front and only partially successful on the other, I ended the weekend with my head held high, brimming with new knowledge.

This desire to play Policenauts is not new to me, but the realization that it could be an actuality was. As my friend and I have been playing through the Metal Gear Solid series, I’ve done additional reading on the other works of Hideo Kojima. Policenauts is one such title and even though it never released in English-speaking territories, it’s still moderately known and highly regarded. Through this research, I stumbled upon the news that an enterprising group of fans had produced an English translation (circa 2007) and that it had been successfully patched into the PlayStation version (circa 2009). The process of implanting the patch didn’t seem too complex so without any additional thought, I acquired a copy off eBay… and Metal Gear Solid: Integral for good measure.

These games came in the mail this past Wednesday and before getting down to the tough stuff, I set about locating my Swap Magic discs. These are boot discs for the PlayStation 2, specifically the slim version, that allow the play of import and backup discs, with a slight modification to the console’s disc cover. I purchased these a few years ago when I first attempted to play import PS2 games. I went through the entire process of getting a slim PS2, modifying the disc cover, and finding a few games to play, only to fizzle out when I had done all the “hard” work (it was actually pretty easy). After thoroughly disassembling my gaming closet Thursday, I located the Swap Magic discs and was ready to begin processing the Policenauts patch.

My modified PS2, featuring a "toilet seat" disc cover.
My modified PS2, featuring a “toilet seat” disc cover.

Cue Friday night. My weekend had officially begun and I’d sat down at my computer to examine the readme file associated with the patch. Step one was simple: acquire a copy of Policenauts. Check. Step two upped the ante. “Rip your hard copy of Policenauts to the ISO format.” Furthermore, the author recommended CloneCD to rip the discs (it’s a two-disc game) to a .ccd format and then another program: Alcohol 120% to convert the .ccd files to .iso files. I did as he said and was successful in creating the .ccd files, after perusing that program’s help documents. I then attempted using Alcohol 120%. Before installing, it warned of compatibility issues between it and my HP laptop. I disregarded this prompt hopefully naively, and was greeted with a blue screen of death on the post-install restart. Another attempt resulted in the same issue. Through system restore, I brought my laptop back safely and was forced to look elsewhere for converting these .ccd files, read: Google.

The Google searches yielded many options for programs generating .iso files from .ccd files, but I had a hell of a time finding one (a) compatible with my HP laptop, (b) that was free or had a free trial, and (c) looked trustworthy enough to download. The incompatibility between Alcohol 120% and my HP laptop is a known issue with two solid fixes, but I didn’t feel like uninstalling the conflicting program or upgrading to Windows 10 to remedy the issue. Unfortunately, many other similar programs had similar incompatibility with HP products and my urgency to play Policenauts was beginning to waver. Fortunately, my friend demonstrated enough persistence to persuade me and I eventually discovered UltraISO, a program which granted me access to what I needed with its free trial. I now had the .iso files I needed.

The third step was another doozy: “install xdelta 3.” An innocuous enough task with even a link being provided, simple enough one might say. Wrong! Maybe it would be simple for someone who knew what they were doing. I was just following steps and as soon as the path deviated from those steps, I was lost. Whether it was the second step or this one, I had to devise my own workarounds to get to the same end result as the readme documentation. What I needed here was some kind of .exe file, of which there were many variations of, and looking back on it, I just mishandled this and started banging my head against the wall when the solution wasn’t as clear-cut as the instructions lead me to believe. To cut a long story short, I found what I needed.

With that .exe file safely tucked away in the same folder as the .iso files and the English patch, I simply had to execute the patch file and, voila! It didn’t work! But, before getting up in arms, I realized that was a possibility. There was a second patch file for computers running an Athlon CPU, which apparently I’m running, and when that was executed I was greeted with sweet, sweet success! Finally! The patch files had been applied to the .iso files and I could then burn them to blank CD-Rs and test them out in my PS2 using the Swap Magic discs. There was one single issue remaining… the Swap Magic discs don’t work with PlayStation games and backups, only PlayStation 2 games and backups. D’oh!

In a continuing display of naiveté, I realized this only after attempting to boot a CD-R and then an original disc, both unsuccessfully. A little bit of reading clarified this point to me and served as a reminder to always read the instructions fully before beginning a task (there were no instructions regarding this but I should’ve thought ahead). So, how else could I play these patched CD-Rs on actual PlayStation hardware? The readme file for the patch didn’t delve too much into that topic, but I’ve since researched a variety of options but have yet to settle on one. There’s also the simple route of just playing with an emulator, but the few times I tried doing so with ePSXe haven’t been fruitful. I’m in the process of getting that to function currently and will report back with results.

So, my weekend had barely begun when I realized that playing Policenauts likely wouldn’t be a reality. With the Swap Magic discs available and the PS2 already set up though, my friend and I turned towards the stack of import PS2 games we had hauled into the living room. Without too much effort, it was soon clear why I had fizzled out on the import scene when my interest first piqued years ago.

The stack, laid out.
The stack, laid out.

The Swap Magic method of playing import/backup games is pretty simple. It can only be done with a slim PS2 that has had its disc cover replaced with one resembling a toilet seat. Once the Swap Magic disc boots, it’s replaced with the desired disc which then runs as if region locking wasn’t an issue. The disc cover can’t be opened though, or else the PS2 reverts back to the browser, hence, the toilet seat design which allows for easy access. The Swap Magic discs are sold in a pair – one to boot CD based games and another to boot DVD based games.

We had no issues using the CD based Swap Magic disc. We were able to dabble with a few of the CD based games and had an enjoyable time in particular with The Zombie vs. Ambulance, or Zombie Virus as it’s known in Europe. The PS2 did not cooperate with the DVD based Swap Magic disc however. In fact, the system didn’t read any DVDs regardless of region. It was becoming clear to me why I burned out originally: because I ran into issues with DVD based games. We flat lined at this point and moved on to more productive ventures for the night.

After a night of sleep and a morning of garage sailing with my sister, I kickstarted the search for solutions to my DVD woes on Saturday afternoon. Most reading led me to believe that the laser failing to read DVDs (but still retain its CD reading functionality) was somewhat common. Cleaning the laser ruled out the potential of dust or dirt being the issue and the next cheapest option was simply replacing the laser. Luckily, I obtained a second slim PS2 at an estate last year for a pittance; alternatively, a replacement laser was about $12 on Amazon. I made sure to test a variety of CDs and DVDs in this second PS2 before going any further and fortunately, all worked. After watching a few YouTube tutorials on replacing the laser I had confidence that I was up to the task.

Later that night, while watching Dr. Zhivago on the OETA Movie Club, I successfully switched the lasers. It took much longer than it should’ve thanks to the distraction of the movie but there were also a couple of screws that were royal pains in the butt to remove. Once the movie had finished I had the opportunity to test out the modified PS2 and… it still didn’t play the Swap Magic DVD! What’s more, the system successfully played other DVDs. Looking on the bright side, my issues were narrowed down more specifically to the DVD based Swap Magic disc itself. It didn’t look too scratched, although there were minute cosmetic issues with the disc. Getting it resurfaced would either solve the problem or eliminate one more possibility.

Sunday afternoon, once they’d opened, I made the drive to the nearest Vintage Stock with a working resurfacing machine. While waiting I stumbled across an older GameShark for the PlayStation. In the reading I’d done on playing import/backup copies of PlayStation games I saw mention of an exploit that might possibly allow me to play Policenauts. I bought it to be on the safe side but realized when I arrived home that it wasn’t compatible with my PlayStation. Policenauts was again put on the backburner, but I was one step closer! Next up on the docket was testing the newly resurfaced DVD based Swap Magic disc.

To my surprise, it worked! The PS2 successfully read the disc and launched the Swap Magic menu. I exchanged the disc for Michigan, a Grasshopper Manufacture survival horror game that I remembered seeing on X-Play years ago. The involvement of Suda51 may have also had an impact on my purchase too… Side note: this game was released in Europe, but good luck finding a copy for under $40 and let me know if you do! I was appeased after a little while and was ready to try another game when the PS2 stopped booting the Swap Magic disc. It recognized it as a PS2 disc in the browser and would act like it was booting it, only to return me to the browser menu. ARGH! Other DVDs played just fine so I’m led to believe there’s an issue with the disc itself – not the surface of it, but the information that’s written to it, so… yeah.

I can’t explain why it worked once and not again other than just getting lucky, but I’m not going to sweat it. Maybe I’ll get a plan of action assembled for this upcoming weekend, maybe I’ll have these issues resolved before then, or maybe I won’t even bother and just fizzle out entirely here. No, after all I’ve been through I know I won’t take the easy route out, I’m going to see my objectives through. I’ve been constantly disheartened through these two procedures, but I’ve consistently found ways to make something work or narrow my issues down. Whether it’s playing an English-patched copy of Policenauts or playing DVD based, import PS2 games, I can look back at this weekend disappointed that I wasn’t entirely successful, but I can also look back at it and be proud of the work I put in and the knowledge I’m left with. This weekend was a learning experience that things won’t always be as easy as they seem, but that’s no reason to give up. The path to success is lined with trial and error and through that process, much can be gained.

Metal Gear Solid [PlayStation] – Review

Metal Gear Solid - Title Card

The hype and critical acclaim surrounding Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain got to me (it started last year with this). With my tendencies though, I’ve opted to ignore that title for now and jump in at the beginning: Metal Gear Solid. Technically Metal Gear would be the beginning, but whatever. My usual cohort is following suit and he’s postponing his time with MGSV until we make it through the core series. If there were any gaming series that would benefit from this way of playing, this would be the one. These games are dense with dialogue and exposition and understanding or linking them together coherently may come easier after freshly experiencing them. To assist, I’m going to be doing intense note-taking in the hopes that I’ll understand the narrative and characters even better.

He doesn't know what's coming.
He doesn’t know what’s coming.

Before ever controlling Solid Snake we went through about twenty or thirty minutes of backstory. Most of which was done through (optional) barely animated briefings and through these, the inspiration of Escape from New York was apparent. The characterizing aspects of Solid Snake and his initial mission mimicked Snake Plissken’s so closely I’m surprised there wasn’t legal action! We were also treated to a few Codec conversations and cinematic cutscenes illustrating Snake’s infiltration of Shadow Moses Island. The latter highlighted why it was, and still remains, so highly regarded. Hideo Kojima and Konami revived a classic series in the guise of a big-budget action movie and defined the modern era of storytelling in video games.

The story that unfolded over the next dozen hours centered on Snake’s stealth mission to recover two kidnapped figureheads associated with the U.S. Dept. of Defense and prevent the terrorist group responsible from using a bipedal nuclear equipped robot: Metal Gear Rex. The group responsible is actually the black ops Army unit that Snake once belonged to: FOX-HOUND. The current members have gone rogue, calling themselves the Sons of Big Boss, and are requesting the remains of Big Boss (the unit’s founder). They want access to his genes, which in the wake of the Human Genome Project the U.S. has been secretly isolating “soldier genes” and injecting them into soldiers, creating a “genome army” with skills more proficient than the average warrior. Big Boss was “The Greatest Warrior of the 20th Century” after all.

Just another classic scene.
Just another classic scene.

The story gets way more convoluted from there and at times, it felt like a break was needed to understand the events or conversations that just happened. I did strive to take comprehensive notes and playing with another person also helped to soak in the data and translate it into information. Once we’re done with the series, I’m going to try and understand everything as best I can and that’ll probably involve writing a synopsis of each game. The series, and this game in particular, doesn’t require in-depth note-taking to find enjoyment or some understanding but the lore is so rich that I feel like it’ll be rewarding and enlightening in the end.

For the most part, the events that take place seem plausible and with a little imagination, realistic. Maybe the thought that a bipedal nuclear equipped tank of sorts would be the ultimate weapon is a little farfetched, but this is a game whose inspirations also include mecha anime. The characters that make up the cast on the other hand, specifically FOX-HOUND, well, they’re less believable. They are, however, a rogues’ gallery of fascinating villains. The standout is of course Psycho Mantis, whose psychic abilities included reading the files on the memory card, predicting the player’s actions (forcing the player to plug the controller into the second controller port), and a few other “breaks” in the fourth wall.

One of the most memorable boss fights of all time.
One of the most memorable boss fights of all time.

The battle with him will remain one of the most memorable video game boss fights for a long time to come, but they all weren’t as great. The majority of them are very memorable, if only for the fact that the fights themselves were generally bookended with much conversation and featured the distinctly unique members of FOX-HOUND. Others will remain memorable to us specifically because of their difficulty. Whether it was the uphill battle we were in for because of Solid Snake’s limited health or the challenging situations we’d just gone through beforehand, I’d say a quarter of the fights took a half-dozen attempts each. One thing’s for sure, like the members of FOX-HOUND, each boss fight was unique and required different weaponry or tactics.

While the battles could be frustrating depending on the circumstances, the typical sneaking gameplay wasn’t so hard. Honestly, it didn’t make up a lot of the game in retrospect. The memories of my original playthrough ten years ago are filled with the feeling of helplessness after getting caught and just giving in to the enemy’s weapon fire in order to quickly restart. That didn’t occur to us often on this playthrough. We did get caught every now and then, but we were able to successfully evade capture or quickly eliminate a soldier or two before it escalated to total despair. I imagine we’re just playing smarter than high school me.

The showdown with Metal Gear Rex, like a few other boss fights, was no walk in the park.
The showdown with Metal Gear Rex, like a few other boss fights, was no walk in the park.

It’s been seventeen years since this game was originally released and I think playing it is still as vital to one’s gaming résumé as it was then. This is a cinematic game that was unlike any other at the time of its release and one that still stands out today. With a complex narrative, feature film presentation, and audio/visual qualities that were remarkable for their time (and still respectable today), Metal Gear Solid is a must-play game. I didn’t find playing it as enjoyable as watching it and trying to follow along with the intricacies of the plot could be difficult, but there were some brilliant sections and set pieces nonetheless. The stealth aspects remain a challenging and enduring appeal for me, but the negative experiences we had with a few of the boss fights outweighed the positives. It’s a landmark video game, all in all. On to Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty!

Random Game #1 – Final Fantasy Chronicles [PlayStation]

Final Fantasy ChroniclesWhen 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.

As far as Final Fantasy branded items go, Final Fantasy Chronicles is somewhat unique. It was only released in North America, sort of. This is a compilation of two games previously released in North America: Final Fantasy IV and Chrono Trigger. Both games feature additional content compared to their original SNES releases. Most of the additions are minor, but each game now includes an opening cinematic and Final Fantasy IV’s script has been revised. I haven’t played these versions, but I have played these games and without question, they’re highlights of the role-playing genre; specifically harkening back to of the most popular eras of the Japanese RPG.

Each game was originally developed by Square and these versions were ported by TOSE. Final Fantasy Chronicles was released for the PlayStation on June 29, 2001 courtesy of Squaresoft.

JohnTheGamer and Tridrakious Play Street Racer and Super Bust-a-Move

WTF!?
WTF!?

Watch the splendor of Street Racer for the PlayStation and Super Bust-a-Move for the Playstation 2 in low-fidelity splendor! Played by none other than JohnTheGamer and Tridrakious, courtesy of just1morelevel.com!

Final Fantasy V [PlayStation] – Review

Warning: the black label version of FFV has minor glitches when played on the PS2 and is nigh unplayable on the PS3.
Warning: the black label version of FFV has minor glitches when played on the PS2 and is nigh unplayable on the PS3.

When I began playing Final Fantasy V, the first ten or so hours got me down. Coming off of my completion of Final Fantasy IV, this game felt like a pause in progression for Square. The characters, protagonists and antagonists alike, felt one-dimensional. The narrative didn’t allow for a rotating party as the previous game did, and this kept the experience stale. During this early period, the combat system felt wholly similar to its predecessor too. It wasn’t until the job system was unlocked and given a few hours to come into its own, that I really began to enjoy the game.

The sky is dropping transporters.
The sky is dropping transporters.

With a traditional narrative revolving around elemental crystals and a maniacal evildoer, I didn’t get drawn into the story. After all, with a name like X-Death, there’s no questioning his motives. The protagonists were, slightly, more fleshed out though. Bartz was a wanderer who encountered the princess Reina and a stranger from another planet, Galuf, while investigating a meteorite. They joined together and set about to protect the four crystals after they witnessed one of them shattering and learned that collectively, the crystals protected a seal on X-Death.

Soon enough, the group bumped into the pirate Faris. Get this, Faris suffers from amnesia and is actually Reina’s long lost sister, Salsa. The group initially fails to protect the four crystals and X-Death is freed. With his freedom, X-Death returns to his original planet to begin conquering those who sealed him away. As the story plays out, the group learns that the two worlds were once one and in their quest to defeat X-Death, they reunite them. Galuf’s granddaughter Krile joins the fray eventually as the party composition changes partway through the game.

The battles got more interesting with more job classes to choose from.
The battles got more interesting with more job classes to choose from.

This game adapts the Active Time Battle system of its predecessor so battles played out nearly identically. This meant time continued to flow as I navigated the battle menus, etc. The differentiator for this game was the job system. Although Final Fantasy III had a job system, the one implemented here is structured differently – I found it more fun.

Each character had a personal level and a job level. Gaining a personal level improved stats while gaining a job level unlocked related abilities. An unlocked ability could be equipped regardless of what job any given character was at the time. This meant a white mage could also use black and time magic or a samurai could heal in the clutch. The abilities and benefits were plentiful and I had many favorite combinations at different points in the game. This gameplay system kept the game interesting when the narrative failed to do so. In my mind, that’s how I’ll remember the game.

Mode 7!!!
Mode 7!!!

Final Fantasy V was a slow starter. It was hard for me to get excited about the game when the story and characters weren’t doing it for me. This was concerning as I felt Square genuinely moved the genre forward with Final Fantasy IV. Eventually, the gameplay became the focal point of interest for me as the job system grew more robust and my party was earning the experience to unlock abilities. Mixing and matching the traits of different jobs and overcoming tough enemies were definitely the stars of the game.