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Post by Lord Spencer Mon 3 Aug - 14:36:28

#A71

Game: Blaster Master: Blasting Again
Year: 2000 (JP), 2001 (NA).
Genre: Action Adventure.
Publisher: Sunsoft, Crave Entertainment.
Developer: Sunsoft.

The Official PlayStation 1 Gaming Threads - Page 2 Ps1_blaster_master_blasting_again-120314

First things first, I am changing my rating system to a simpler 10 point system. Games that get above a 7 I fully recommend, and those that get below that are mostly a waste of time. That leaves the score of 7 to depend on your taste

The first Blaster Master game was released in the second half of the console's life cycle, a little after most of its iconic early games have already been released. It managed to gain critical acclaim and a dedicated following because it used the console to its full potential while basically being a mishmash of genre ideas of many of those iconic games all in the same package.

Released in the late stages of the PS1 lifecycle, Blaster Master: Blasting Again was poised to do the same thing. Alas, the PS1 was a more complex console than the NES and the developers, Sunsoft, didn't have the same deft touch in everything they set to accomplish despite ultimately making a really good game.

"With their great power, they caused upheavals in the Earth, threatening humanity"

The major gaming element that became semi-mandatory in the 5th generation of gaming was the existence of a story. Games could be elevated or ridiculed by their story, but the story can be ignored in most cases as an extra flavoring layer.

Sunsoft attempts to elevate their game with a story. Surely enough, the CGI scenes are actually surprisingly good for the time, and there is even voice acting in the game. Yet, the story itself is a forgettable mess, with the voice acting somewhat making it even worse, that I simply wouldn't acknowledge its existence in the game.

In broad strokes, the story is about Roddy, the son of the hero of the last game, protecting the world from the "Lightning Beings" and saving the world while piloting his dad's trusted "Sophia" tank. He is also supported by his sister, Elfie, who provides mechanical and communication support.

Far more important is the story told in the game world itself, and that's where the game is truly lacking.

Simply put, the design of the game's levels, enemies, locations, and everything that encompasses the game's world is lacking. Other than the design of the Sophia, which was already set in the NES game, the game lacks any distinctive visual or artistic characteristics.

"Roddy, always be careful and don't go on over your head"

Gameplay-wise, the game aims to be a 3D translation of the original NES game. Like I said in the intro to this review, the original was a mishmash of genre ideas. One portion was a 2D Run & Gun game like Contra, others were top-down Zelda-inspired dungeons, and the game was set up similar to Metroid.

Blasting Again actually tries to preserve that varied identity of the original, but in 3D, and it mostly succeeds. The majority of the game is spent piloting the Sophia in various labyrinthian stages. Often, you will need to get out of the Sophia and proceed on foot into smaller "dungeons". As you finish stages, the Sophia is upgraded in ways that improve its mobility. Meanwhile, you can find upgrades at each level that increase your special firepower capacity.

On the tank, the gameplay is surprisingly smooth. The Sophia moves like a charm and the shooting action was not as inaccurate as I originally thought it would be. Usually, in 3rd person shooting, its a hassle to aim when lacking an aiming reticule. However, the Sophia automatically locks-on targets within its aiming cone, and the movement allows you to strafe around the enemies if you need to. That's because you have access to side-dashes mapped to the shoulder buttons that simply make the tank a joy to control.

The same cannot be said about the on-foot segments, as Roddy isn't as fun to control and the segments themselves are usually too repetitive. While the Sophia has access to four special weapons, Roddy is stuck with his base weapon and two special attacks that are of questionable use. Also, he is not as fast, and there is too much platforming in his segments. Also, due to having smaller "rooms", Roddy's section have more frequent loading spots. Still, it's not a deal-breaker, and honestly add value in variety.

As for the level-flow itself. I initially was very confused regarding what to do and how to navigate each level. However, I soon got the hang of it, and the secret is to frequently check your map. Basically, each level consists of several rooms, with some rooms containing a "dungeon". Without even knowing what you are supposed to do at each level, a good idea is to simply go to each room and the game will tell you if there is something that you were supposed to do, which often is a switch in another room or inside a dungeon.

"Be careful, Rody! There is something huge just ahead!"

Besides navigation and platforming in each level, there is also a lot of shooting going around, culminating in some intense boss battles.

Aboard the Sophia, in addition to your trusty shooter, you have access to four special weapons: Bomb rocket, close-range Tank thunder, defensive orbital Field drones, and Homing lasers. Learning how to best utilize these special weapons is pivotal to handling the tougher enemies and bosses fo the game. However, the majority of enemies are easy to dispatch.

Unfortunately, Roddy doesn't have the same offensive capabilities, but that's not his biggest weakness. For some reason, aiming as Roddy is simply not good enough. Flying bat enemies can easily go past his blast to hit him, and he loses weapon power as a result.

Note that you can always run past enemies, which is often a faster option. Yet, fighting is fun when riding the Sophia which is why I don't run often, but it's not as fun as Roddy.

Of course, you cannot run from boss fights, which are super-intense and fun when riding the Sophia. These battles needed me to jump and dodge around like a madman while taking advantage of every weapon at my disposal.

Unfortunately, Roddy gets his own boss fights and they are not as fun. Ironically, it looks like Sunsoft understood that he isn't as fun to control, which is why they made his boss battles have more of a puzzle component (which makes them better).

"This world will be destroyed in a matter of time. What good is your futile resistance? It's not too late... TO REPENT!"

Like the first game, Blasting Again came late enough in the console's lifecycle with more knowledge on its capabilities. That shows in the creations of admittedly impressive CGI scenes. However, despite their best abilities, the console's 3D graphics capabilities were lacking.

As such, pure technical merit wasn't able to shine. Instead, the game's lack of artistic cohesion is ore evident to us judging the graphics today. Even though Balsting Again may have looked better than other 3D games of the time, its still is not as memorable as some admittedly uglier games.

It's worth noting that the game doesn't suffer from any technical bugs and glitches but that it has significant loading time at each level. Since the loading happens between rooms, its more obvious in the smaller rooms while in on-foot dungeons.

Thankfully, the game's musical score is more memorable, with some really good level tunes. My favorites were the "Water" and "Plant" level themes, which had some complex arrangments with both naturalistic and sci-fi layers.

Of course, like many other PS1 games, its best to tune down the volume of the sound effects, which can get annoyingly loud at higher volumes. Especially since you will be shooting your gun a lot during the course of the game.

In Conclusion:

Even though it's not a classic like its legendary predecessor, Blasting Again is still a good game. It has some surprisingly action-packed and smooth gameplay when riding the Sophia, and the on-foot segments provide some variety despite being less fun.

Yet, beyond its gameplay (Which is good but not excellent), the game suffers from some boring design choices regarding its level and artistic design that keeps it from reaching the next level.

Final: 7/10

Pros:

  • Great gameplay when piloting the Sophia
  • Very Good Music
  • Some cool bosses


Cons:

  • Gameplay is weaker in on-foot segments
  • Level design and graphics are uninteresting.


"Tips"
1-I suggest mapping the special weapon attack to a shoulder button.
2-Learn where each special weapon is most useful.
3-Explore the environment a bit for upgrades on special weapon capacity.
4-In on-foot segments, you lose weapon power if you are hit.
5-Make sure to always look at the map to understand your bearings.


"Next Game"

After a string of disappointing games, I am glad I played something that's enjoyable to play despite not being a masterpiece like its NES predecessor.

Next, I am going to write a report on the top 80-71 games on the Additional List, which are numbered randomly by the way. After that, I will continue going down the Retro Sanctuary top 100 list by reviewing Alundra at #80, which should be a good game from what I have seen of it.

Stay Tuned

Lord Spencer
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Post by Lord Spencer Mon 24 Aug - 18:10:03

#80

Game: Alundra.
Year: 1997 (JP), 1998 (NA).
Genre: Action Adventure.
Publisher: Sony (JP), Working Designs (NA).
Developer: Matrix Software.

The Official PlayStation 1 Gaming Threads - Page 2 C43655cdc21a4b60b8f937a29c3c8051

First things first, I am changing my rating system to a simpler 10 point system. Games that get above a 7 I fully recommend, and those that get below that are mostly a waste of time. That leaves the score of 7 to depend on your taste

Alundra is widely considered a spiritual sequel to the great Genesis game, Landstalker. Yet, other than the clear A Link to the Past (ALttP) influence, the game is nothing like it.

It has a much more serious story, and the gameplay loop is now even closer to ALttP. In fact, if you want to consider this a "Zelda clone", then this is clearly one of the darkest, and best of "the clones".

"A legend is written of a boy with a mark in his forehead. He is said to be at once blessed... and cursed... granted the awesome power to enter the dreams of others as they slumber"

The story is front and cent in Alundra. Starring the titular character, the story starts with his sea voyage going awry and washing ashore next to the village of Inoa. Somehow, this village is finding itself as the forefront of the resurrection of the evil god, Melzas, and Alundra is thrust into the role of the village's savior.

While the story may nominally about saving the world from Melzas, it is made more intimate by its focus on the village of Inoa, which is one of the most unfortunate places in gaming history.

This small hamlet is beset by misfortune from the start of the game. Since destroying their religious idols at the order of the king, they have lost their creativity and started having disturbing nightmares. Nightmares that would cause great misfortune if Alundra, who discovers that he is a "Dreawalker, couldn't enter and save the villagers. However, the game isn't afraid of getting dark, and you discover the limits of your own efforts as you fail to save some villagers.

Emotionally, that's a bit draining, since the game does an effective job of making you care about the characters through extensive dialogue and smart and consistent characterization. I found myself caring about most of the villagers in Inoa, and that's mostly helped by Working Design's excellent localization.

Let's get this elephant in the room over with right now. Working Design's localization ingests its own brand of humor into the game, which works fine sometimes, but is sometimes terrible and distracting in noticeable ways (Bonaire's entire dialogue is cringe-worthy). However, the dialogue flows well and the story is well-told.

Overall, Alundra has a great story by the standards of the time that is still good today. It's not afraid of going to dark places (too depressing at times) and is thematically interesting. The village of Inoa becomes a believable place that you care about, and that's a huge success in my book.

"You make me laugh feeble one! No one has the power to stop me now! Especially not a miserable human"

Soon after you begin the game, you realize that this is heavily inspired by ALttP but with the crucial addition of a jump button, which makes a crucial difference. Namely, the fact that there a lot of platforming challenges in addition to the expected puzzles and combat set-pieces.

The main gameplay loop consists of going to dungeons and getting a pivotal item or information that unlocks the next dungeon. Most of the time, this item is something that expands your arsenal of tools, but rarely is the item incorporated in the puzzle-solving in the same way as the Zelda series, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Puzzles vary a great deal, but most are slight variations of sliding block, stair-making, puzzle-platforming, memorization, with some interesting and thematic logical puzzles. It's refreshing that the game is genuinely challenging, but it sometimes veers dangerously into being more annoying than difficult. For instance, there is a significant number of platforming-puzzles that punish you greatly for failing a jump by not only repeating the entire puzzle but also going back to an earlier room in the dungeon.

The only reason that this isn't a deal-breaker is the fact that is just too many good puzzles countering the bad. Ironically, this then develops into a negative of its own.

Simply put, Alundra is not a short game. It has nearly twenty dungeons, and these aren't short dungeons at all. Honestly, the game would be a bit better if each dungeon was slightly shorter, leading to a tighter experience.

Still, the dungeons and puzzles within are overall of high quality despite the occasionally annoying platforming challenges. Of course, they are made better thanks to their thematic relevance in the story, especially the dream sequence dungeons which are a highlight of the game.

"We will soon see whether you are enemy or friend. Whether you are a warrior or a coward"

Other than puzzles, you will spend the majority of your time fighting the game's various enemies and bosses. Initially, with just a dagger in hand, the combat is a bit tedious. However, as you gain more powerful weapons and equipment, the combat does open up more.

Previous damage sponges become manageable, and you start having more ways to deal with bosses, including magic spells that are unfortunately exclusively useful against them (thanks to a limited magic pool).

The consistent acquisition of equipment and power-ups is consistent with the themes of the game, and you feel you are getting closer to being able to defeat Melzas with each completed dungeon. However, that power comes at a cost.

Naturally, there is the actual time and adventuring cost in conquering the dungeons, in addition to the necessary exploration to find life vessels and gilded flacons (which you trade for useful items). Yet the more potent cost is the lives lost in the village of Inoa, with each life reminding Alundra and the player of the necessity of success.

This dramatically comes to head against the game's many bosses, which are mostly good despite some of the later one devolving into long fights with damage sponges. At that point, you should have the tools, equipment, and resolve to handily defeat any foe.

"Creation and invention are part of being human... and so is dreaming. If we deny ourselves the right to dream, we deny our own humanity!"

If not for its excellent graphics, none of Alundra story or gameplay ideas would fully carry through. Thanks to its conservativeness in using 2D sprites, the game ended up aging gracefully. It looks like one of the best SNES games but with even more additional graphical effects that give it an extra oomph.

Supporting its smart use of graphical style is some quality sprite-work and character design. It's nothing that is truly inspiring, but it works very well overall and is great in motion. Especially when combined with the gritty character art.

One thing that may be criticized is the muted color palette, but I actually think that it fits the mood of the game which is more somber than your typical Action-Adventure game.

That's made more obvious by the soundtrack, which is highly atmospheric and chilling in tune with less uplifting melodies. At first, I didn't care much for the soundtrack, but it quickly won me over as it effectively underlined the story and welded well with the graphics.

Even the "Village of Inoa" theme which I initially disliked became a favorite of mine as it ironically contradicted the tragic fate of the village in its jazzy tunes. However, it's not my favorite tune, with that being a contest between the dungeon themes: "The Lizardman's Lair" and "The Child's Dream".

In Conclusion:

On all counts, Alundra is a very good game that nearly reaches greatness. I think that with a little more polish in its dungeon design and platforming gameplay, this could have easily been one of the best PS1 games.

As it is, it is a very good Action-Adventure game with a uniquely somber story and surprising depth and complexity to its narrative, which manages to shine trough mostly good gameplay that is occasionally marred by excess in difficulty or length.

Final: 8/10

Pros:

  • Very good story and atmosphere
  • Excellent sprite-based 2D graphic
  • A very good top-down Action-Adventure game
  • Very good and atmospheric


Cons:

  • Some of the platforming-based gameplay is unfairly difficult
  • The game is a little too long


"Tips"
1-Explore the world and dungeons thoroughly to find life vessels and gilded falcons.
2-Gilded falcons can be traded for more life vessels and useful items.
3-The fortune teller can show you what you need to do next.
4-Spells should be conserved to be used against bosses.
5-Anything you can carry and throw without it breaking can be used as a step ladder.
6-Do not underestimate your jumping ability and the required platforming skill in some segments.
7-Jump into chimneys if you don's see smoke coming out of them.
8-It's a good idea to get the items from the Fire and Ice manors (in that order) as soon as you can.
9-Some thorny bushes that you burn hide passages.


"Next Game"

Alundra easily becomes the first game in my PS1 reviews series that I wholeheartedly recommend anyone plays. It is seriously one of the best ALttP clones I played, and I don't mean that as an insult.

Next in my schedule is Alundra 2, which is supposed to be the Ocarina of Time that follows the first game. From what I have heard, the game doesn't succeed in that, but I trust this team's pedigree enough to know that it will at least be an interesting game to play.

Stay Tuned
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Post by Lord Spencer Mon 14 Sep - 16:19:44

#80S

Game: Alundra 2.
Year: 1999 (JP), 2000 (NA).
Genre: Action Adventure.
Publisher: Sony (JP), Activision (NA).
Developer: Matrix Software.

The Official PlayStation 1 Gaming Threads - Page 2 148327-alundra-2-a-new-legend-begins-playstation-front-cover

In many ways, Matrix Software's Action-Adventure games were invariably inspired by and compared to The Legend of Zelda series. In fact, the original Alundra was heavily inspired by A Link to the Past both in its look and structure.

Carrying on, you would guess that its 3D sequel would be inspired by Ocarina of Time. Yet, that's not the case, as Alundra 2 attempts to basically be a 3D looking top-down Action-Adventure game.

In that departure (which didn't age well), and in its more lighthearted story, the game was a disappointment to fans of the original. Yet, despite its shortcomings, and because of some of its quirks, I actually think that this game was unfairly rated at the time. It' a really charming game that I would remember long after I forget the original.

"My father, the king, is missing and Baron Diaz put a wooden puppet in his place on the throne"

To start, this game has nothing to do with the first Alundra except the name and the genre. The story is very different, focusing on a more humorous and lighthearted tale. In many ways, the story is the opposite of the dark, serious, and somber tone of its predecessor.

This has probably upset fans of the original, who see this game's story as childish and filled with cliches. Yet, in the context of the time, where many games were attempting to tell edgier and ore serious stories, this was actually against the grain. Also, the game's story wasn't filled with cliches as much as a celebration of them.

I can't say this enough, the story is fun, charming, and downright funny; relying upon and succeeding in using a lot of slapstick humor. The irony is that game's central conflict has a rather dark edge to it. Right at the start of the game, a giant clockwork key falls on a giant whale corrupting it with dark magic, and the whale suddenly transforms into a mechanical monstrosity. Soon, you realize that the sorcerer Mephisto is planning to use such key (in smaller sizes) to control and enslave many humans.

Aided by princess Alexia, who is not a damsel in distress (for most of the game), you embark on a fun adventure to figure out what is happening. Unfortunately, the game's second half is not as engaging as the first, focusing more on humor than more solid characterization.

Still, with a solid supporting cast of misfits, which includes a dysfunctional pirate family, the game always takes the chance to get a laugh. Sometimes, that happens even at the game's darkest moments, all the way up to the climatic end of the game.

"Aaah, the children of the crown. I thought you were just a child's game but such an imminent threat calls for an imminent response"

Following the Zelda formula but without much of an overworld, the game consists of several puzzle-heavy dungeons interspersed with some light combat. Instead of tools and weapons that you gain in each dungeon, you get access to four elemental rings with limited direct involvement in puzzles.

Like the first game, platforming has a big role in a big number of puzzles. This fine for most of the game, but sole late-game puzzles are very unforgiving in their demands with a lot of wasted time being the punishment for failure.

Generally, the game loop is fine. Combat is straightforward and starts to open up a bit more with more magical elements and combos that you unlock, but it is not a strong point of the game. That's made apparent with the game's bosses, who are more puzzle focused. Like the game's puzzles, the bosses require a lot of action gameplay, but actually figuring out how to hit the bosses is more of a puzzle than a direct battle.

Basically, your enjoyment of the game depends on how much you enjoy solving light puzzles with some light platforming action. Of course, this doesn't mean you won't be frustrated by some of the game's more obtuse or precise platforming puzzles.

"You know what I think about heroes? They make a nice lunch."

Outside of dungeons, the game has some light roleplaying problem-solving in several locals along with a good number of mini-games and distractions. Unfortunately, despite the charming NPCs, there aren't many side-quests to speak off.

In fact, one of the game's best storylines (the story of Pierre and his wife) would have been a sidequest in any other game, but Alundra 2 just had to include it in the main story for its comedic value alone.

Without much story content to tackle outside of the critical path, you have to make do with a big number of silly minigames that hide puzzle pieces, life containers, and magic containers as rewards. One of the best distractions is the bullfighting mini-game which serves as a reliable money generator. You don't actually do much in the game except bet on bulls (its just an RNG game), but the cinematic introducing the game is really funny.

True, few of these mini-games are actually fun, and there is nothing much to do in the cities but looks for a few puzzle chests, but these do add a lot of character to the game, especially when you meet crazy NPCs like the Cow Princess of Toledo or the greedy child merchant (who you can royally cheat).

"I know I'm a good actress, but this is ridiculous! Did you forget my beautiful face?"

So far, I have been mostly positive about the game, but here is where my main point of criticism. No matter how you look at it, Alundra 2 aged in an exceptionally ugly way.

While the in-game 3D graphics aren't so bad, they are zoomed-in to a ridiculous degree, which has both visual and gameplay implications. You feel like the camera angle should have been more isometric than top-down. Still, the graphical engine doesn't show its entire limitations in actual gameplay.

That's exposed during the game's many in-engine cut-scenes. Here, the graphics morph into an indistinguishable polygonal soup, where character faces contort with no control, and the 3D shapes start tearing at the seams. It looks ugly, there are no two ways about it.

Yet, even at its ugliest, Alundra 2 somehow is still charming. That's because the scene direction is masterful. Through its exaggerated movements and slapstick comedy, the characters are able to express a range of personalities that their distorted graphical representation cannot. Scenes are constructed in a way that works beyond the game's graphical abilities, and it would be nice to see how it would look like in a later generation.

This is aided by mostly solid voice acting, with only the occasional awkward delivery, which is surprising for a PS1 JRPG (guess the Activision localization delivered). I think that's because the over-the-top delivery works for this crazy cast of characters.

One element that is slightly disappointing is the game's soundtrack, which is not nearly as unique and interesting as the first game. I think that's because of this title's more quirky nature which didn't gel with the more atmospheric and mysterious style of the original's compositions.

In Conclusion:

I am struggling very much in giving a final rating to this game. In one hand, I feel that the game was unfairly criticized at the time for being a goofy departure from the original's somber story. In the other, the game' graphics didn't age well and it has some of the same gameplay issues as the original.

As such, I am basing my final judgment based more on feeling than observation, and I feel that Alundra 2 is, despite its flaws, a more charming and memorable game than the first. Yet, due to its 3D graphics didn't age well and they bring the game down.

Final: 7/10

Pros:

  • Really fun story and memorable characters
  • The cut-scenes are really funny
  • Realy solid dungeon and puzzle design


Cons:

  • Some of the platforming-based gameplay is unfairly difficult
  • The graphics have aged terribly


"Tips"
1-Collect puzzle pieces and give them to Jihan to unlock more combo moves (Getting to level 3 is a must).
2-Utilize the Bull Fighting game to get money, which you can then use in a late-game island to buy a very useful attack ring.
3-Talk to NPCs to figure out where to go next.
4-The green magic ring allows you to hover in space, which is useful to wait for platforms to get in place.
5-A lot of puzzles require some platforming skills, so get practicing early.
6-Your running jump covers a lot of space, learn to use it.
7-Platforming works in set levels, so you can't vertically jump over two blocks.


"Next Game"

I enjoyed both Alundra games, and even if I prefer the second one, I recognize that it aged poorly and consequently may be less fun to play than the original. However, if you are willing to look beyond the game's aged graphics, then it is a fun and charming game with classicly hilarious Japanese comic sense.

The next game in my review series is Star Ocean 2: The Second Story at #78. Originally, I wasn't going to review this game since it was remastered on the PSP, However, I noticed that there wasn't a consensus on which version is better, so I am giving the PS1 version a shot.

Stay Tuned
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Post by Lord Spencer Mon 5 Oct - 16:49:42

#78

Game: Star Ocean: The Second Story.
Year: 1998 (JP), 1999 (NA).
Genre: ARPG.
Publisher: Enix.
Developer: Tri-Ace.

The Official PlayStation 1 Gaming Threads - Page 2 Star_Ocean_Second_Story

The retirement of the space-based JRPG franchise, Phantasy Star, allowed for another to shine in its place. For many people, the second game in the Star Ocean series is a true masterpiece. Yet, it is rarely considered as one of the top PS1 RPGs.

After finishing the game once, I fully understand why it is a favorite game for many, while at the same time failing to stick-out much for those who didn't fall in love with the game.

"On the course of the journey you are about to embark, you should be able to find who you really are"

In what may be a disappointment to those who are expecting a space odyssey, the story begins and is mostly confined to the planet Expel. Here, you get the choice between the perspective of two heroes: Claude, the son of the first game's hero, and Rena, a local girl who may represent a deeper secret. Your choice doesn't have much impact on the greater story, but it offers the chance for a slightly different perspective. Also, each main character gets a unique party member that isn't available if you choose the other.

With any character in the driving seat, you start investigating a mysterious meteor that crashed into Expel causing all kinds of calamities. As you investigate, you are joined (sometimes you need to look for the) by colorful allies that help you out and get involved with some local issues. This provides room for the world and the characters to grow before the mid-game reveal.

After that, the stakes become larger and more immediate but is unfortunately hampered by a cast of ridiculously one-dimensional villains. This shouldn't be a big issue, as the story focuses on the personal journey of your characters and the relationship between Claude and Rena.

I say shouldn't because it depends on how much the awkward translation can affect your enjoyment of those interactions and how the story unfolds. This is par the course for PS1 RPGs, but I feel that the story here is affected by it more severely.

Thankfully, you get the chance to interact more with your party members through "Private Actions". Here, each of your party members goes about doing their own thing in town and you can talk to them. In some locations, you can trigger an event that fleshes out a character and change your relationship parameters with them. This in turn affects the endings you get in the game.

Practically, I don't think you can get the endings you want without a guide. Also, I think that the game's natural ending should have Claude and Rena hooking up. Regardless, the number of possible endings and the variety of character combinations suggest a game that invites multiple playthroughs.

"All of these are merely stepping stone towards us regaining our powers and making the galaxy and universe ours"

The idea of multiple playthroughs must be supported, of course, by the game being fun to play even once. To support its case, Star Ocean 2 attempts to be a more action-focused JRPG, continuing its foray into ARPG gameplay. Since you will be spending about half of your time in the game in battles, how much you enjoy the gameplay has a lot of influence on your appreciation of the game.

In battle, you control one character while the other three operate with broad AI mindsets. The battle can be paused at any point to change characters and issue commands, which helps when you need to use items, but Rena is usually good at keeping you healthy most of the time. When you control a character in full manual mode (the only mode you should play), you can walk around and attack normally as well as use one of two "Killer Moves". Controlling all but three or four physical characters isn't very fun.

Early in the game, resource management is critical, and as such you pay attention to the flow of battle and how much MP you spend with "Killer Moves". Yet, as you and enemies get stronger, the game degenerates into a mindless button-mashing affair. I seriously was just jamming the R1 button as fast as I can in the final battle.

Ironically, this mindless battle system may be a blessing in disguise, but that's due to another key issue. Namely, the fact the random encounter rate is very high, which is apparently necessary to level enough to survive the late game difficulty spikes.

Objectively, I cannot say that the combat system in Star Ocean 2 is any good. However, it is fun and fast enough in a mindless way that actually makes the game easier to play through twice, since the battles become more of a set-up game than actual in-battle strategizing.

"I'm not doing anything as audacious as saving the world"

Setting-up your party is the most fun thing to do in the game, as there is a lot of customization both in character building and part composition. The key to that is the Skills you can upgrade for each character.

There are more than 30 Skills in the game, which are divided into permanent stat boosts, combat support skills, and some flavor ability. Once you upgrade your skills by spending level-up skill points, you unlock specialties that rank-up based on your skill level. For example, Pickpocketing is a very important specialty that you unlock by upgrading two skills: Poker Face which increases your critical chance, and Courage which does nothing but helps you upgrade Pickpocketing itself.

Specialties are actions you can take in the menu screen or in the game world to help support your party. Mostly, you use them to craft new weapons and accessories that are much more useful than the things you can normally find. As your party learns more specialties, they start being able to do super specialties, which again bring in more useful things.

As expected, the game is built around these skills and specialties to a great degree. You end up drowning in crafting, cooking, customizing, compounding, and composing materials for you to play with. It is almost overwhelming, but there are tons of online guides to help you sort through it. Also, there are tons of ways you can break the system, getting powerful weapons and armor very early in the game that makes most of the game trivial.

If you are not a fan of all the available tinkering, then this might actually turn you off. However, this is a big reason why the game is so beloved by its fans since it allows for a lot of experimentation different set-ups.

"My, my. How primitive those beings of undeveloped planets are. So quick to raise their voice"

A key element to most JRPG games that some feel were not rated fairly by the mainstream press is their adherence to the sprite graphics of the 16bit era. Ironically, most of these games look much better now than the venerated polygonal nightmares that were lauded for their "realistic" graphics.

Sure enough, Star Ocean 2 fits in that bracket. It features some charming 2D sprite work for all of its characters and enemies juxtaposed against some rudimentary 3D-looking backgrounds (like Final Fantasy VII) that are sometimes seriously gorgeous.

In battle, the sprites are more detailed an the animation is varied and meets the requirements of ARPG gameplay. Yes, it sometimes looks weird to have 2D sprites running around in 3D space, especially since you cannot actually attack the sides very well. Also, the spell animations are varied but unfortunately stops the time during battle, causing battles to stall needlessly.

One honestly impressive thing is the quality of the CGI cutscenes, which are some of the best I have seen from that era and are used effectively to underscore key points in the story.

In the sound department, the voice acting is only used for in-battle chants, which are not very good. There is poor quality to the voice recordings and some samples are offensively bad, but not to a degree that brings the whole game down.

Musically, this is a classic Motoi Sakuraba soundtrack. It has some really good tracks, with "The Venerable Forest" being one example. However, the majority of the soundtrack, while very good, blends together in a non-distinctive, but highly competent soundscape.

In Conclusion:

I feel that Star Ocean 2 is the rare JRPG that is built to be replayed several times, and the super fans of the game are ones who like this aspect about it. For someone who rarely replays games, it means that I am missing a big portion of the experience.

Nonetheless, even a single playthrough showcases how this a charming game with tons of customization options. So much, that even with some slightly mindless gameplay and a prosaic story, it still is a very good game.

Final: 8/10

Pros:

  • Built to be replayed with a lot of endings
  • A lot of variety in character building and party composition
  • Sprite graphics are really good


Cons:

  • The ARPG battles become button-mashing affairs at the end
  • In-game explanation for things is lacking


"Tips"
1-Before you upgrade any skills, go to the town of Helie (in the eastern shore of the first continent) and buy the perseverance skill and upgrade it first. This will make the other skills cheaper to buy.
2-Utilize private actions to angel for a specific pair to hook up for different endings.
3-Stamina is important to recover after a battle (which keeps you going), so upgrade Dange Sense early on.
4-Upgrading the skill "effort" is great to help in leveling up.
5-Saying no to someone when they ask to join is FINAL.
6-Some characters are mutually exclusive. For instance, recruiting Ashton keeps you from recruiting Opera and her boyfriend.
7-Only physical characters are fun to play as.
8-Some of the best items in the game can only be gotten by pickpocketing your allies during private actions.
9-There is a lot of RNG involved in crafting and pickpocketing, so save scum if you are attempting to get the best gear (a must if you are aiming for the higher difficulty runs and the final optional dungeon).

"Next Game"
As expected, I really enjoyed Star Ocean: The Second Story. It's not as good an ARPG as a game like Tales of Destiny, but it has a lot of customization options and a unique skill progression system.

Next in my list is another JRPG at #75, Breath of Fire IV. However, before playing it, I will play the third game in the series first. Reportedly, the PSP port of Breath of Fire III has an expanded fishing mini-game (which I don't care about) and it fixes a glitched soundtrack. For the soundtrack, I will actually apply an emulation hack to fix it on the PS1 version.

Stay Tuned
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Post by Lord Spencer Fri 30 Oct - 0:16:05

#75 (S)

Game: Breath of Fire III.
Year: 1997 (JP), 1998 (NA).
Genre: RPG.
Publisher: Capcom.
Developer: Capcom.

The Official PlayStation 1 Gaming Threads - Page 2 Breathoffire3_box

Both on the SNES and the PS1, Capcom’s Breath of Fire series was rarely considered as examples of the system’s best RPGs. In many ways, they felt too formulaic and safe to be contenders for greatness. On the PS1, where graphics were going into a more 3D and “realistic” style, the first BoF game was firmly planted in the past.

Ironically, it is this last quality that best preserves BoF III for today’s players. Its sprites and 2D graphics and animations have aged better than most PS1 RPGs, and what may have been considered (erroneously) a weakness at one point is the game’s biggest strength along with a surprisingly good story and characters.

Yet, other weaknesses that were noted in the past, such as a lack of innovation and depth in its combat and an overall sluggishness to the experience, all contribute to dragging the game down. In the end, BoF III’s adherence to past SNES RPGs is both its biggest strength and most damaging weakness.


"We are just some poor kids trying to get some food. Who ever we steal from will forgive us, right?"

The game starts with a dramatic scene, where a small dragon escapes a mine by killing a couple of guards and then is captured and carted to authority. Yet, a dragon is not easily contained, and it escapes and is suddenly transformed into a young blue-haired boy. This boy, Ryu, is then adopted by a golden-hearted ruffian, Rei, who also earlier adopted another child in the gang. In the beginning’s narration, you learn that dragons, who harbor near-infinite power, were previously involved in a war that almost destroyed the world.

From this set-up, the story resolves itself slowly, in two parts. The first part involves Ryu as a child under Rei’s thieving tutelage. This leads them to accidentally crossing a powerful crime organization which leads to a separation of the trio and the mandated imprisonment of the JRPG hero. In prison, Ryu meets Nina, the spritely princess of the Kingdom who becomes an invaluable ally in Ryu trying to find his friends. In the child chapters, Ryu meets all of the game’s playable characters and sets up both his peaceful and compassionate moral compass, as well as his relationship with the other characters.

As such, in the second part of the game, where Ryu must resolve the issue of his powerful and destructive dragon powers, the emotional and personal stakes have already been set-up. This leads to a second part that is like a funeral march on the surface.

A common criticism of the game is that the story takes a while to get going, with the stakes never getting high until much later in the game.

I disagree with that criticism, as I think the slow-burn works for the story. It allows for a breathing room for the characters to develop in, and even allows a lot of “pillow” moments where characters just behave in a silly or humorous manner. Seriously, there is a lot of funny moments in the game that land well due to both the slapstick direction and on-key animations and visual cues.

Overall, I think that there is more depth to BoF III’s story and character than it is commonly given credit for, and that is one of its biggest strengths (along with a good sense of humor).


"The savage and malevolent Brood (dragons) attempted to conquer the world, igniting a fierce war..."

On the surface, there are a number of interesting mechanics that should shake up how BoF III plays.

First, there is a master system that significantly affects character growth. For instance, Bunyan is an early master that increases power and defense at the expense of intelligence and action points, making him perfect for a potential tank. Once you train with a master, you also get some special skills every two or three levels you train under them. A major flaw in this system is that levels don’t stack up when learning skills, meaning that if a master teaches something at level 10, then you must remain with him and NEVER change masters until you get that skill.

Second, all your characters have the Blue Mage ability to learn some enemy skills by examining their actions in battle. In theory, this is an excellent system, as it allows you to learn many enemy skills and then freely transfer them between characters. However, the great majority of skills in the game (90%) are almost useless. As such, I feel compelled to grind for more useful skills while getting a boatload of utter rubbish.

Third, exclusive to Ryu is the ability to transform into a dragon by splicing up to three different “dragon genes” which you find around the world. These transformations are very powerful and they look super cool. One can complain that they have no idea how to get the best transformation from a combination of around 15 genes, but that’s what trial and error (and GameFAQs) are for.

Other than that, the turn-based gameplay is classic JRPG fare with each character really filling in a basic role that can be augmented or slightly changed by training with different masters. This isn’t terribly exciting but should be effective despite the plethora of useless skills.

However, what sucks the excitement out of gameplay is not the system itself, but the technical performance which is excruciatingly slow, compounded by high random encounter rate and sudden difficulty spikes.

Simply put, for it to be playable in any respectable way, battles need to be sped to double the speed at least.

"The strong get what they want. And the weak can't do anything about it"

Unfortunately, the general sluggishness of the game is not restricted to combat but somehow affects other parts as well. For instance, movement in town and in the maps feels too slow, but that’s not a big issue.

A much bigger issue is the VERY SLOW text scrolling speed even at the highest setting. Dialogue becomes sluggish as a result, with every conversation taking almost two minutes more than it should. While some of it is due to scene construction (waiting for the character to animate), most of it is just slow text scrolling.

Other minor annoyances creep up, such as the need to physically travel to a master’s location to train under them or learn their skills. Also, some dungeons have puzzles that require some backtracking, which is annoying with the game’s slow combat and high encounter rate.

To provide moments of levity, BoFIII includes a number of mini-games. While most mini-games are one-time affairs included to shake things up, the fishing mini-game is something that was so good, it was expanded further in the PSP release.

What is cool about the fishing mini-game is that it could provide a lot of in-game bonuses as you can trade some fish for high-level gear. Another major side activity that can help you is a fairy village which you open in the latter part of the game and can influence its development, which also can help you by providing some good items.

The game’s general sluggishness does reduce the fun in both the above activities, as you feel nothing goes fast enough to be engaging. This almost ruins a theoretically great part of the game where you cross a desert and need to keep the stars in mind in order to correctly navigate. It is a great idea, but the game’s slow performance makes it truly disastrous if you ever make a mistake.

"The power that can shake the very foundtion of the world... The power of Infinity..."

Finally, let us just take a moment to appreciate how well the game’s graphics and animations have aged compared to its polygonal peers. Capcom were known for its excellent sprite-work, and that shows clearly here.

Not only are the characters sprites well-drawn, but they are also expressively animated. Take for instance the several idle animations of the characters, which are hardly noticeable but provide so much character context in their execution. Sadly, there is a limited number of action animations, and I wish there were two or three per character.

A similar level of care was reserved for enemy sprites, which have a variety of designs (despite the occasional color swaps) and especially menacing boss sprites. The same level of care did not translate to the game’s world, which is sadly mostly forgettable with only a handful of interesting locations and an almost washed-out look.

In the audio department, attacks are voiced in Japanese, but there is no voice acting outside of battle, which wouldn’t be an issue if the text scrolling wasn’t slower than human speech.

As for the soundtrack, it is not exactly memorable, and I am not saying that because of the glitched PS1 soundtrack. Sure, it has some interesting tunes and an especially interesting jazzy take in some tracks. However, it fails to compare to Capcom’s best work and wasn’t very memorable to me.


In Conclusion:

In conclusion, I think that Breath of Fire III could have been a very good RPG if not for its sluggishness in both combat and general movement and dialogue. It has an interesting story and a lovable cast as well as some solid foundations in its gameplay. Sure, the Masters and Skills system have some holes, but the combat would have still been fun if it had double the speed.

Ultimately, that’s the only thing that keeps me from surely recommending the game, which is otherwise a great looking game with a very good story. Maybe play it in an emulator with a fast-forward function (just a thought).


Final: 7/10

Pros:

  • Great graphics that aged very well
  • The story and characters are surprisingly good with humor that works
  • Some interesting ideas in combat (the master system)


Cons:

  • Simply too slow in combat and in-world movement
  • This sluggishness is also evident in dialogue


"Tips"
1-DON'T CHANGE MASTERS UNTIL YOU LEARN ALL THEIR SKILLS.
2-Consult a FAQ to know which skills are useful so that you don't waste your time fishing for trash.
3-To unlock Deis as a master, don't be a perv and compliment how she looks after she changes.
4-You can save your favorite dragon combinations, but you do that from the menu screen.
5-Since passive party members don't ain any levels, you can avoid the late-game grind requirement by focusing on one single party throughout the game (which I don't like to do).
6-Engage with the fairy village mini-game to unlock some useful mid-game gear.
7-The fishing mini-game also gives you access to some useful gear.
8-Use Masters to build your character to complement their strengths rather than their weaknesses.
9-Ryu's best attribute should be Action Points.

"Next Game"

I think that if you play BoF III in an emulator with a fast forward function, then it deserves another point to its score. However, as it is, its charm is not enough to offset some seriously sluggish gameplay. It still is so damn charming though.

Now, I am going to play Breath of Fire IV, which is the game that officially sits in #75 in the Retro Sanctuary list. I am hoping it has the same level of charm but with a faster and more streamlined gameplay loop.

Stay Tuned
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Post by Lord Spencer Sat 5 Dec - 11:20:08

#75

Game: Breath of Fire IV.
Year: 2000.
Genre: RPG.
Publisher: Capcom.
Developer: Capcom.

The Official PlayStation 1 Gaming Threads - Page 2 61MV1JtcClL

I don't think either fans or Capcom itself would have predicted that Breath of Fire IV would be the last traditional game in the series. After all, it was released with a lot of love from Capcom, and it looked like it was setting up the mythology for future sequels.

For whatever reason, the next games in the series went in a completely different direction, and the franchise has since lain dormant.

Which is a shame, because here we have a classic RPG, built-in many ways like an updated SNES RPG, that begs for a traditional sequel. After all, I still have bittersweet feelings at its ending, and I wish I was still it was a little bit longer.

"When the Dragons move, the world follows. Everything the Dragons do changes the world in some way..."

Years after the latest stalemate between the Western Empire and the Eastern Kingdoms, two nobles from the east are looking after the missing Wynidian princess, Elina. Nina, her sister, and Cray, a dear friend, and the chief of a feline tribe, were crossing the desert that separates the two countries in a "sandflier" when they were suddenly attacked by a Dragon.

Needing parts to fix the sandflier, Nina heads for the nearest town to look for parts when she encounters a naked blue-haired man. Fans of the series will recognize this man as Ryu, a dragon in human form who is the protagonist of all Breath of Fire games. And so the story begins.

In the first chapter, the party looks for the missing princess while they try to keep away from the empire not to upset the stalemate treaty. There, you learn about how the war has been going on for nearly a millennium, and how the empire can easily be classified as callous and evil in some way.

In a parallel story that you jump to in fixed moments, you take control of Fou-Lu, the awakened first emperor of the Western Fou Empire. Fou-Lu awakens to join with his second half and take control of the Empire, as promised before the beginning of his slumber. However, the current empire is very different, and they immediately attempt to capture him to use his power, or to kill him in order not to lose their authority. This parallel story does a great job of demonstrating the sheer power of Fou-Lu and his motivations for his actions later in the game.

At that point, it is pretty obvious that Ryu is Fou-Lu's second half. Soon, you learn how the dragons are Gods, called the Endless in this world's mythology. The Endless, you learn, influence the direction of the world, and as such the party of Ryu find themselves swept by the influence of the Endless in an epic struggle.

The setting and characters are great, but the game, unfortunately, doesn't take full advantage of that. Of the six party members, only three get the time and dialogue to shine. It turned out, after some investigation, that the game ran into many schedule and budget items as it tried to release on the PS1 just as the PS2 was peering from the horizon, with many planned story sequences scrapped and replaced with filler.

Yet, despite these clear shortcomings, the characters and story shine. They do so because they provide the room for the player to fill in the gaps through the richness of their design. Like the SNES RPGs that inspired it, the characters' movements and animations convey their personality, feelings, and motivations in ways more than dialog could ever do.

"I would call thou foolish. But thou art mortal. Thou cannot go against thy nature no more than a fish could walketh upon the firmament"

In its gameplay, Breath of Fire IV doesn't innovate much in the RPG genre, but it does enough to craft a strong and free-flowing system that still offers a lot of room for both customization and fun. It is at its best when facing tough bosses, which is unfortunately rare throughout the game.

Your party of six are involved in the battle, but only three of them are active in a single turn, and you can freely swap between them when selecting your actions at the start. The three members in the back recover MP points and may chip in with some assist moves.

Characters can attack, defend, use items, or use special skills. A key element to doing well is using your special skills to craft combos, which are easy enough to pull, and are a must to effectively control battles. Almost all skills can combo into each other, but some combinations are more effective. For instance, using a wind attack after a fire attack crafts a spell that is more powerful and hits a group instead of a single enemy. Combos don't always work, but they should work 90% of the time if you make sure the order of casting is correct.

To help you build a strong team, the game offers two ancillary systems to help you out.

First, you can learn some enemy moves by defending (which is much better than using the analyze function in Breath of Fire III. While the majority of moves you can learn aren't better than the ones you naturally acquire, it is very recommended that you learn the few elemental moves that you can (such as Burn and Icicle).

Second, there are about 10 or twelve Masters in the world that you can train under and influence your statistical growth. For instance, you can make sure the Scias develops well as a secondary healer or a mage by augmenting his MP and Wisdom development. Also, you can switch between Masters very easily this time around, as you can do it from your camp menu.

Note that these systems were available in the last game as well. However, here, they are easier to use, and the game is much faster, that that it is simply more fun to play.

"We live within and throughout the world. Seek us out so that you can gain from our power"

Unlike previous games in the series, the overworld map here is just that, a map. Honestly, I am not too bothered by that, as it saves time and is not a bad system in itself. You move from two points on the map, and you can occasionally go into random battles if you get a question mark on top of your head. Later, you can simply teleport to any point on the map without much hassle.

Outside of combat and travel, the Breath of Fire series is known for its deluge of mini-games, and it doesn't disappoint here. Nearly every plot moving point has a mini-game of sorts around it, ranging from the mundane (organizing a warehouse) to the ridiculous (push fighting pirates on top of a mast).

Mechanically, not all of these games are winners, but they are a welcome distraction that shakes things up pleasantly. Especially since the game doesn't actually have any sidequests to speak off. Sure, you can find new dragon forms and dragon summons, but that's just moving finding point Z in the map.

Of all the mini-games, two are more involved and offer some tangible rewards.

First, there is the classic fishing game, which is brilliant as always and is a lot of fun. I have probably spent 20% of my game time just fishing, and I only regret it a little. Theoretically, this should have allowed me to get to some of the top-level gear that I can exchange for high-level fish, but I rarely managed to catch the correct combination of fish and just did it to get the fish as items.

The other activity is developing your fairy village, which is simple enough without much direct involvement. Occasionally, you find the fairies being hunted by wild animals and you can engage in an annoying mini-game where you need to quickly kill the animals and get food to the fairies.

Generally, playing Breath of Fire IV is mostly about its combat, with a bunch of mini-games sprinkled in to shake things up. Dungeon traversal is mostly very basic, with little puzzle elements in some dungeons only.

"The Endless are... They become Gods or Demons on the desires of those who summoned them"

Initially, it appears that Breath of Fire IV is simply carrying on with the same production and design philosophy of the series. However, it becomes clear that the design here is actually very different despite the surface similarities.

First, let's look at the sprite work. It may not look impressive at first, but once you see the range of character and enemy animations, it becomes apparent that this is some of Capcom's best sprite work, ever. Reportedly, there are over 3000 individual frames of hand-drawn animations, and I believe that.

Characters move and behave in realistic and distinctive ways. Earlier, I said that the character designs and animations convey much about their personality, and that's most apparent in the Fou-Lu chapters. Fou-Lu's animations convey a sense of arrogance and power that outclasses any CGI scene.

Admittedly, the game has a washed-out color palette. However, that doesn't take anything away from the vibrancy of the sprites and the world's art design. That is especially apparent in the many exotic details that make up the game's world.

It is worth noting that not everything is sprite-based. In fact, many bosses, and all summons are polygonal creatures. These didn't age as well as the sprites, but they are mostly saved by their exotic art design.

Equalling its art direction, the game's soundtrack is uniquely great. Unlike the disappointing Jazzy tunes of Breath of Fire IV, this game's soundtrack is heavily influenced by Southeast Asia and the Middle East. It sounds exotic, with some non-conventional techniques and instrumentation, and it sounds great.

While the entirety of the soundtrack is very good, the more exotic tracks stand-out. For me, tracks like "Yet the Merchants will Go" and the two battle tracks in the Western continent are as unique as they are great to listen to. Also worthy of mention is the game's theme, "Endings and Beginnings", which permeates throughout the soundtrack.

Again, we don't have any voice acting other than the soundbites in combat (which are all in Japanese), and I am fine with that.

In Conclusion:

If your major complaint about a game is that you want more of it, then that is already a veiled compliment. The truth is that Breath of Fire IV is a very good game that has clear flaws. There are some clear filler chapters, and characters and story are not explored enough through dialogue.

Yet, in its full design, it conveys so much potential and personality that you cannot help but fill in the missing narrative through your own imagination as we have always done in the SNES era. I think that's why the game is so beloved by its fans, as this is clearly an RPG crafted in the image of the best SNES games.

I can imagine if the game wasn't strained for tie and resources, that it would have been a truly great game. Still, what we have is a cool title that is fun to play from beginning to end.

Final: 8/10

Pros:

  • Great graphics that aged very well
  • Story, characters, and setting are very good
  • The combat is fun, and there are a lot of mini-games to shake things up
  • Some great and unique music


Cons:

  • Mostly lacks in challenge
  • You feel that the game is rushed in some parts, and filler in others.
  • Some narrative shortcomings and lack of dialogue


"Tips"
1-Press Triangle while controlling Nina to fly and check-out your surroundings.
2-Guarding allows you to learn some enemy skills.
3-Press square to get some info on the enemies, which might suggest possible useful items, the ability to get skills, and things that make them drop more EXP.
4-Skills that you can learn are highlighted in blue when an enemy uses them while you guard.
5-Make sure to learn the elemental magic skills from enemies to help you produce more combos.
6-Make sure to find all Masters and train well under them.
7-Alternate between Masters to get a more rounded party.
8-Characters resting in the back row get some MP back.
9-Make sure to find all your dragon forms so that you can control your Kaiser form.
10-Doing well in mini-games, including fishing, helps you upgrade your dragon forms.
11-The fairy village is a useful thing to build and develop.


"Next Game"

As expected, I ended up liking Breath of Fire IV very much, and I like it more because it didn't waste my time as much as its predecessor.

After playing so many RPGs in a row, I guess it is time to play a game from another genre. That game will be the Vehicle Combat game, Vigilante 8 2nd Offence at #74. Let's see how this game has aged.

Stay Tuned
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Post by Lord Spencer Tue 15 Dec - 18:50:07

#A70

Game: Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare.
Year: 2001.
Genre: Survival Horror.
Publisher: Infogrames.
Developer: Darkworks.

The Official PlayStation 1 Gaming Threads - Page 2 31615-alone-in-the-dark-the-new-nightmare-playstation-front-cover

In a telling signal to its diminishing legacy, several reviews of Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare suggested that it was heavily inspired by Capcom's Resident Evil series, which is obvious to anyone looking at both games in the context of the PS1. However, it was Resident Evil that was inspired by the first Alone in the Dark game, which is the game frequently thought to have originated the Survival Horror genre.

Yet, the game's two sequels were disappointing messes, and Resident Evil's success cemented it as the leader of the genre that The New Nightmare then emulated. Unfortunately, while a competent game at the time, there is little to recommend this game today.

"My best friend died because of these tablets. He died in Shadow Island and I am going to"

The game is set on a fictional island of the shore of Boston, where two potential playable characters go to investigate a suspicious literary character. As either series staple, Edward Carnaby, or Aline Cedrac, you are thrust into a nightmarish scenario.

Shadow Island is a mystical place where a portal to the World of Darkness is located, and the Morten family has been trying to figure out its mysteries for generations. The lore regarding the World of Darkness and the Morten family is strewn about the game and is very effective at world-building. You can feel the mania behind the Mortens actions when reading their diaries, and it is easy to become invested in the background story.

Unfortunately, the same level of writing isn't present in the story of the age itself. The dialogue frequently tries to be funny, which doesn't fit the tone the game is going for, and the delivery is acceptable but not top-notch.

Mostly, you miss the immediate horror of what's going on in Shadow Island, as there are no stakes besides your own lives. There are no interesting side stories to uncover like the Trevor or Birkin family stories in the first two Resident Evil games.

In the end, I felt that the lore was a missing opportunity of making more of the story we eventually got, which is just a basic bore.

"We Mortens have lived with the darkness for over a century! We have mastered it and learned how to tame it"

The main reason this game was compared to Resident Evil is because its gameplay was nearly identical on the surface. A 3rd person Survival Horror game with puzzle-solving, shooting, and tank controls, which really was the same for all games of the genre at the time.

In many ways, the Survival Horror genre derives much from Adventure games but adds in more layers of action. Like in Adventure games, you gather around a lot of objects and clues that you need to figure out how to use to solve puzzles.

Alone in the Dark does little to innovate here, with simple puzzles whose base complications is the need to read an in-game book to figure out. With no need for inventory management, the only difficulty is to make sure you pick-up all items in a room.

The tension comes in the form of deadly enemies that you have to fight with clunky shooting mechanisms. Soon, you should figure out that the best way to deal with enemies is to simply run away from them, which conserves ammo and is of less risk than fighting. This means you need to familiarize yourself with the stiff movement, which is honestly not that bad.

Note that in the rare instances that you have to fight some enemies, you can simply shoot while standing still most of the time, reloading through the menu screen. Riveting stuff.

"Light has ruled alone for far too long. It is time for Darkness to spill into the world"

Darkness is a good friend for 3D PS1 games, as it can be smartly used to highly any of its graphical limitations. To be fair, Alone in the Dark was considered to look good in the past, but it doesn't look too good now.

The 2D environment looks great, but the 3D elements are as blocky as you would expect, with the added benefit of CGI scenes that suggest a better-looking world (while not actually being impressive for the time).

Mostly, I am upset at the poor and limited creature design, which is lazy and uninspiring. That lack of art direction doesn't support the poorly aged graphics at all.

It is worth noting though that the lighting system is technically brilliant. Your characters have access to a flashlight that can illuminate their surroundings (And also reveal which objects you can interact with). Game designers would understand that this was a significant technical challenge, for the team to make a system that allowed the player to simply direct light at whatever objects they were aiming at.

Musically, the game has a basic Survival Horror score that is heavy on atmosphere, but not so much on melody. It does the job, but there are also some sound quality issues. Also, the voice acting is solid, but not impressive.

In Conclusion:

In truth, Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare is not a bad game. It would have been a solid title to play at the time, despite being inferior to other games in the genre. However, it doesn't justify a playthrough today, not for its own merit or for any historical significance.

Final: 5/10

Pros:

  • Very good lore and background story
  • The flashlight is technically impressive for the time


Cons:

  • Gameplay lack challenge, innovation, and tension
  • Poor and cringy dialogue
  • Graphics didn't age very well and are not saved by the art direction


"Tips"
1-Always have your flashlight open, pointing it around reveals objects you can interact with.
2-Always turn on the light in every room you enter.
3-The best way to deal with most enemies is simply to run away from them to conserve ammo.
4-Press X next to all boxes, cupboards, and shelves.
5-Read the lore documents for some clues.
6-Reload your weapons from the inventory screen to skip the reload animation.


"Next Game"

I wonder what I am going to think about the old Resident Evil games. After all, Alone in the Dark should have benefitted from their example, but it also missed a lot of their skilled design as well.

That's a long way off. The next game in the supplementary review list is going to be Dragon Valor, a reportedly misunderstood Action RPG by Namco.

Stay Tuned
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Post by Lord Spencer Fri 25 Dec - 10:45:21

#A69

Game: Dragon Valor.
Year: 1999, 2000.
Genre: Action (Hack 'n' Slash)'.
Publisher: Namco.
Developer: Namco.

The Official PlayStation 1 Gaming Threads - Page 2 61GBK4ERRWL._SX466_

Released relatively late in the PS1 life cycle, Dragon Dogma was touted as an Action RPG with some relatively decent graphics and combat. I don't know if that genre classification is what caused it, but the game was considered to be a mediocre ARPG and did not have a good reputation.

However, I think if people stopped to consider what is the actual genre of the game, they may not have been disappointing at what it is not. Simply put, Dragon Dogma is no more an RPG than Guardian Heroes on the Saturn was.

This is a Hack 'n' Slash game with some minor RPG elements, and it was a good game at the time, but it is not worth it much today.

"The Dragon is still alive?! Then I will chase it till the end of the earth and destroy it"

The story immediately begins with a quest for vengeance, as the main character's village is burnt and his sister dies by the action of an evil dragon. Almost immediately, the character is handed a magical sword and becomes the "Dragon Valor", a hero who is destined to fight dragons.

Although there is a background to this conflict, it is rarely interesting enough to care about, and major elements of the story are explained in scrolling Star Wars text. That's not to say that story takes a backseat to the gameplay. Nearly every level begins and ends with a story sequence.

However, there is no real depth or weight to the story. You can't interact with characters outside of these "cut-scenes", and it is difficult to care about any of them.

The game's main narrative innovation is that you control a different character in each chapter as the Dragon Valor title (and sword) gets inherited through each generation. There are also two choices in the game that branches out the story into three different paths.

Unfortunately, this inheritance mechanic means you get even less attached to your characters as you resolve a different micro-story in each chapter. Sure, there are a lot of cool moments, but the overall narrative is a bit weak despite the multiple endings.

"Oh the pain! The agony! So this is what it feels to be alive!"

Mechanically, the game is a simple Hack 'n" Slash but with magic abilities added on top. Most levels consist of rooms where you need to defeat all enemies (who come in very limited varieties), and then you are done.

Some levels are more elaborate, having simple platforming added on top or needing you to backtrack once you get a key. Mostly, the gist of the game-play is in the combat, which doesn't change much across any of the characters.

You move in 3D space, but most encounters are presented in a linear 2D plane (except bosses, but more on that later). You have access to a basic combo attack, as well as some other genre staple moves (dashing thrust, jumping slash, downward thrust).

Magic is introduced to shake things up, and it is mostly useful, making short work of some mobs while supporting you against tougher enemies. As you advance through the game, your magic gets stronger.

Initially, I thought my character would be upgraded regularly, and I may even have the ability to buy equipment as well. However, it turns out that shops only appear at fixed moments (selling a fixed inventory), and that most of my character upgrades are reset when the chapter ends.

Only limited equipment and magic scrolls get inherited to the next character, and that makes the game feel more repetitive than it already is.

For one thing, bosses, who may be the combat highlight of the game, feel stunted because they cannot be designed well for a stronger character when the stats are reset every chapter.

This is why this game cannot be considered an ARPG, since there is no real RPG growth in the player's character. Instead, like in any modern Hack 'n' Slash, your character is augmented in a fixed way as your real growth becomes your skill as a player.

"Aren't I a fearsome sight!? Surrender, and I'll let you live as one of my henchmen"

Due to its release at the end of the PS1's lifecycle, it is not surprising to see that Dragon Valor has some admittedly good graphics. It's nothing groundbreaking (or even pleasant to look at), but the polygonal graphics in the game are not painful to look at.

Sure, the characters may not look anything like their gorgeous portraits may suggest, but they look close enough for you to imagine the better-looking version. This is the same with some of the game's more impressive dragon bosses.

Hell, even the opening cut-scene was some cutting edge stuff.

Yet, there is a minor annoyance in the game's graphical department that develops into a significant grievance. In all of the game, when you enter a new screen, or during some key action sequences in a cut-scene, the game uses a motion-blurring technique to emphasize a dramatic point. However, all it does is give me motion sickness and hurts my eyes.

Thankfully, the game's music does nothing to hurt my ears. It is actually quite a good soundtrack that fits the genre. However, there is a limited number of tracks that repeat several times, keeping it from being anything special.

Also, something to be thankful for is the lack of cringe voice acting, which could have been a real possibility with a Namco game.

In Conclusion:

I think Dragon Valor was a fine game at its time. In fact, its graphics meant it should have been seen as cutting-edge Hack 'n' Slash game. Yet, the perception that it should be an ARPR has hurt it in my opinion, as it primed people to expect something that it wasn't designed to give.

That being said, the repetitive nature of the game and its lack of a core selling point means there is little reason to play the game today.

Final: 6/10

Pros:

  • Multiple paths to the story
  • The basic combat is a little fun


Cons:

  • Inheritance mechanic is interesting in theory but means every chapter is nearly the same
  • The gameplay gets repetitive really fast
  • Motion blur effect is repeatedly overused


"Tips"
1-Always backtrack at the start of a level in case there are some items to take.
2-At shops, prioritize buying permanent upgrades that can be inherited instead of bigger temporary boosts.
3-Magic is very useful, learn what works in each situation.
4-Defeating enemies with magic may drop an MP extension item.
5-The main choices affecting the game's paths is the decision to open or not open a door in Chapters 1 and 2.


"Next Game"

Halfway through the game, I remembered that I actually beat Dragon Valor on the PS1 nearly two decades earlier. In a way, that encapsulates the game perfectly, fun to play and beat, but not memorable in any way.

Next game in the list is something fans of the game would never forget. After all, Carnage Heart has some extremely unique programming-based gameplay that I am hoping I can enjoy.

Stay Tuned
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Post by Lord Spencer Sun 27 Dec - 20:06:25

#A66

Game: Croc: Legend of the Gobbos.
Year: 1997.
Genre: 3D Platformer.
Publisher: Fox Interactive.
Developer: Argonaut Software.

The Official PlayStation 1 Gaming Threads - Page 2 _-Croc-Legend-of-the-Gobbos-PlayStation-_

With the massive success and revolutionary impact of Super Mario 64, it was natural for more 3D Platformers to be developed. Platforming was proven to work in a 3D environment. However, most of the early attempts at 3D Platformers outside of Nintendo's expert hands produced disastrous games such as Bubsy 3D.

One of the first successful attempts outside of Nintendo was Croc: Legend of the Gobbos, which was made by true 3D artists, which honestly shows. Yet, regardless of how good it still looks today, the gameplay design is simply lacking in many ways.


"Yazooo!"

Raised by the titular Gobbos, Croc races to save them from the clutches of an evil goblin-looking evil something. In each world, he is tasked with finding the little-cute Gobbos as he gets closer to the end of the game.

The story, or at least what little of it you can piece together, is simply told through several cutesy cut-scenes that show Croc interacting with several elements in the game.

When analyzed in historical context, Croc is an anomaly to the 90s school of mascot design. It lacks the "edginess" of characters such as Sonic, Gex, Crash, and Spyro. Indeed, it has more in common with Nintendo's creations and wouldn't look out of place in the world of Banjo and Kazooie.

Argonaut Software attempts to translate Croc's charming design into its gameplay world and attempts to craft a character for the game through several cut-scenes. While this doesn't necessarily work with flying colors, the world does have a consistent visual feeling that is absent from other 2nd-tier mascot characters.

Generally, the game's graphics and visual design hold up very well.


"Hazooo!"

What doesn't hold up well at all is the actual gameplay design.

Simply put, this is a very boring game. Levels are both short and uninteresting, and the platforming gameplay lacks the necessary polish to be continuously engaging.

First, let's direct the main movement flaws from which all of the game's weaknesses stem from. Due to the limited camera control, Croc doesn't turn-well at all, having to use a 180 turn button instead. What this causes is some significantly imprecise platforming. This, coupled with the fact that the game uses the Sonic health system means that the safest way to play the game is to advance slowly and carefully.

At that point, the second issue of having no interesting levels creeps up. All levels in a world look and almost play exactly the same. There isn't a single memorable feature in any single level I played. Adding the extra collection requirements of colored-gems and rescuing the Gobbos only make things worse.

Finally, controlling Croc himself is a pain. His main offensive weapon is an offensively short tail-spin, while his secondary attack is a Yoshi-like ground pound. Just adding a jump-stomp ability to the mix would have made things much smoother, because now all enemies could hit your invisible hit-box with near impunity as you attempt to tail-spin them.

The worst offenders are bosses, which feel and play lie an afterthought with little to no care in their design.


"Shazooo!"

As I said earlier, this game was crafted by some true masters of early 3D graphics. The world still pops with color, and 2D assets are smartly mixed-up to create something that is both pleasant to look at and also is visually consistent.

In fact, the game still looks good today and is much better looking than early PS1 3D games such as Gex 2. The same can be said regarding the few animations and special effects that I observed.

However, due to the limited number of worlds, there is little visual variety between levels, which helps blend the whole thing into one boring soup.

Ironically, despite the music is quite good, the limited number of tracks just help propagate that same feeling. Seriously, there is some really good music with some soothing piano and jazzy tunes, but it repeats so often that I got easily bored with it.

Thankfully, the game's many sound effects were never too grating or annoying, and some were actually charmingly cute.

In Conclusion:

Despite my complaints regarding the game, there is no denying its importance as a genre pioneer. Yet, while games like Super Mario 64 and Crash are still remembered, and at still fun even in their original form, games like Croc are not.

That's because the game is lacking something at a design level that was hidden at the time due to its dazzling visuals. Yet, with the passing of time, the game's faults are much more apparent today.

Final: 4/10

Pros:

  • 3D Graphics are not bad
  • Music is good (but limited)


Cons:

  • Pedestrian and boring level design
  • Hit boxes are wonky and create several issues
  • Some significant camera issues
  • Ultimetely is a very boring game


"Tips"
1-Collect the five colored-gems in a level to unlock the end-of-level bonus room.
2-Some colored gems are hidden among the regular ones.
3-Collect all the Gobbos in all levels to unlock the true ending (I can't imagine why you would want to do that though).


"Next Game"

I remember the pirated version of this game being marketed as a "Yoshi" platformer on the PS1, which fooled some gullible kids and parents in the day. I also remember playing it and never liking it enough to go past the first world. The best thing I can say about it is that it is at least not an obnoxious game like Bug!.

The next game on the list is Vangaurd Bandits, a Tactical RPG that was published by Working Designs. Reportedly, this is one of the PS1 hidden gems. Let's see how true that is.

Stay Tuned
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Post by Lord Spencer Wed 13 Jan - 1:04:49

#65

Game: Vanguard Bandits.
Year: 1998, 2000.
Genre: TRPG.
Publisher: Human Entertainment.
Developer: Working Designs.

The Official PlayStation 1 Gaming Threads - Page 2 61PUN%2B9M3aL._SX342_

Vanguard Bandits, known as Epica Stella in Japan, is one of those obscure quintessential Japanese games that would have never been released West if not for companies such as Working Designs which thrived on porting them. It's a Tactical RPG (already a niche genre) featuring Mechs in a medieval setting (a niche within a niche) with plenty of story and character.

As a game, this is probably one of Working Designs better porting choices, but that's not the case for the localization itself which is hindered by the company's usual liberty with translation. While this doesn't irreparably ruin the game, it does hinder what otherwise could have been a solid very good game.

"I just want to end the war and stop the senseless suffering and death years of war has brought to us"

The story begins with an old man, Kamorge, and his son, Bastion, running away from imperial soldiers, not for the first time. This time, however, looks to be a concluding chapter for all the running that they did, and the fate of the continent will irreversibly start to change.

In what is immediately obvious, Bastion is revealed not to be a regular boy, and the conflict between the Empire and the Kingdom comes to a head. Yet, it is not all black and white, as there are several neutral actors throughout the continent as well as independent actors within each political faction.

The world in which this political landscape is revealed is, at first glance, a medieval world with knights and castles. However, all of the fighting is done with Mechs who look like giant armored warriors duking it out with swords and spears. These Mechs are more than window dressing though, as their power is intrinsically linked to the power struggles in the continent.

From the third chapter, where Bastion's world comes crashing down, the story can branch into two distinct paths, with a third available after clearing the game once.

Overall, the story in either branch is quite good. There is some interesting political intrigue and machinations, several plot twists, and a colorful cast of varied characters with distinct motivations.

However, the dialogue, whether it is due to the original script or purely due to Working Designs' usual liberty, is extremely distracting. Attempts at humor fail miserably, female characters are inexplicable horny towards Bastion, adult humor is awkwardly spliced in, overdramatic sentence structure, run-off sentences, and dozens of other such infractions. This may be the best worst localization job I have ever seen.

The dialogue, in my opinion, does a lot to cheapen what otherwise could have been genuinely compelling heroes and villains. This is made the most obvious in the third path, which I actively recommend that you do not pursue, as I found it a complete disservice to all of the characters in the game.

"Excellent. We can strike against the Empire on their own wretched turf"

Being a TRPG, the gameplay loop of Vanguard Bandits is quite predictable. Chapters are divided into briefing, battle, and story sequences, and so on. During the briefing stage, you can check through the map of the coming battle, change the equipment of your characters, and interview some of them to raise morale (which drops if any character is defeated during battle).

The battles themselves are where the majority of the gameplay is. Set in a typical square grid map, you control up to seven or eight characters, each riding their own Mech into battle. Turns are given based on the agility stat, and that means that enemy and allied turns can directly follow each other.

Each character has to gauges to worry about. First is the Movement Points, which are exhausted as you move and attack. For instance, some attacks will use 50 points while weaker attacks will only use 20. The second gauge is for Fatigue Points, which increase when you attack or defend. If your FP reaches 100, your character faints and becomes vulnerable to enemy attacks as they cool down. You can recover FP by not using MP.

This dual gauge system introduces a welcome level of strategy, as it means you are forced to actually strategize your moves instead of wailing at the enemy with your strongest attacks.

The second strategic aspect of combat is the high importance of positioning. Attacking an enemy from behind limits their defensive options and increases your damage. The same is the case for you, as ensuring the enemy can only hit you from the front means you can use a cheap counter move.

Outside of attacking the enemy, you can use skills to boos your characters for a turn, heal, or do some debuffs on the enemy.

My main problem with the combat is that percentages are deceiving, which means I always gravitated towards the safer and slower combat strategies in order to conserve my troops. Still, the gameplay is mostly fun even if a little bit slow.

"Butchers are butchers, regardless of the crest under which they shed innocent blood"

Unfortunately, while the core battle system in Vanguard Bandits is pretty good, there is a serious lack of customization and agency involved.

First, every path has a fixed and limited number of characters, many of which end up leaving early on or joining quite late. This means that you end up with no strategic choices regarding character development or deployment.

Second, it is usually expected that there are a lot of customization options in a Mech strategy game. However, the Mechs (called ATACs here) are limited in number, and you basically can influence the choice of two or three characters at most.

In fact, the only strategic choice you make is the choice of elemental gems for each pilot, as that influences their support skills in battle. Also, you need to make sure that the points you add as they level up end up unlocking their secret moves (which are not available for every character).

On the face of it, the lack of customization options means that replaying the game for three paths can become a chore. That is certainly the case if you are going for all third paths, as both the gameplay and map designs do not deviate much at all.

However, despite the repetition, the combat is still engaging and the story is fun enough to plow through levels unless you are on the "Ruin" path, which just plain sucks.

"It is my wife's blood that stains your hand, and it is your blue blood that shall adorn my sword"

Graphically, the game is a mixture of your typical TRPG Isometric sprites and some admittedly cool 3D polygonal battle scenes in fights.

The character and Mech sprites are well-detailed but not mind-blowing, with equally adequate character portraits with varied expressions. These expressions actually betray the fact that Working Designs may not have actually deviated from the spirit of the text too much, as there are multiple cases where the characters are clearly making fun of each other as they would in 80's Shonen anime.

However, during the battle, whenever an engagement happens, the camera quickly transitions into a 3D fighting scene between the two mechs. These are honestly impressive, mirroring the graphics of a fighting game like Tekken 3 of Virtua Fighter 2. Both in design and animations, these Mech fights look really cool, and the loading is quick enough that they don't drag the battle down (you can also choose to skip all animations).

Also having the spirit of the 80s is the soundtrack, which is filled with light techno beats and electronic guitar riffs. It is a decent soundtrack that repeats itself too often, and the number of ridiculous tracks (as well as the number of times you hear them) is a tad too much. I can't understand how a reviewer from RPGFan.com thought this soundtrack is better than Final Fantasy VII's.

As for the sound effects, luckily, the Japanese effects are conserved, so we don't get any weird English yelps on a different frequency to the clashes of steel and metal during a fight.

In Conclusion:

Overall, I think that Vanguard Bandits is indeed a hidden PS1 gem. It has a core of solid gameplay and story ideas in an interesting world. Also, it has some replayability factor due to its multiple routes.

However, due to the colorful localization of Working Designs, the dialogue is childish and juvenile on many occasions. In fact, it is downright cringy in many character interactions and interview moments.

If you can ignore that part of the game and maybe imagine a better dialogue that fits the story, then maybe you can see Vanguard Bandits as the truly very good game it was meant to be.

Final: 7/10

Pros:

  • Very good graphical presentation
  • The core combat is really tactical and fun
  • There are multiple story paths to go through


Cons:

  • Relatively bad localization and dialogue that cheapens an otherwise good story
  • Limited customization option for your team
  • The music is repetitive despite being decent


"Tips"
1-Whenever a shop screen is available, buy everything you need right away.
2-Position is key in battles.
3-Concentrate on a single enemy to make them faint.
4-Some attacks cause a "Knockdown" effect which means the enemy will not attempt to counter.
5-Focus on the Fatigue Gauge, which can cause you to faint and become defenseless.
6-If your Fatigue Points are about to reach a 100, simply counter with your strongest move (unless the enemy uses a Knockdown or Collision move).
7-To get the "Ruin" path, you must complete the game once.
8-To get the "Empire" path, you must be at least Level 8 by the end of Chapter 3 and choose the second option.
9-During the "Empire Path", if you want a certain ending with one of the two possible love interests, then DON'T TALK TO THE OTHER ONE AT ALL. Also, it might pay to let the other one die in one or two battles.


"Next Game"

Usually, I am more tolerant towards Working Designs localization, but they really dropped the ball here in what should have been a very solid story. Still, Vanguard Bandits managed to rise beyond that serious flaw.

The next game in the additional list is another RPG, Thousand Arms, which also has some dating sim elements. Since it is developed by Atlus, I have some good expectations for the game, but not too much given the genre.

Stay Tuned
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Post by Lord Spencer Fri 22 Jan - 17:20:05

#A64

Game: Thousand Arms.
Year: 1998, 1999.
Genre: RPG Datin-Sim.
Publisher: Atlus.
Developer: Red Company, Atlus.

The Official PlayStation 1 Gaming Threads - Page 2 Thousand_Arms

Many PS1 RPGs with heavy Anime aesthetics had dating sim elements in the game. Yet, very few of them were ever localized west. Thousand Arms, which was published by Atlus, is one of few such games that was ported West.

Honestly, if this is the best of the genre, then we haven't missed much. After all, Thousand Arms is a thoroughly mediocre game even without its dating sim elements, and those make it an even worse game.

"The Holy Flame of the Sacred Torch is the power of Light, the only power that can battle the Darkness"

The story in Thousand Arms begins with Meis, the main protagonist, fleeing from his home as the powerful Dark Acolytes conquer his home. Soon, as a special "Spirit Blacksmith" can wield the power of the light, he finds himself facing these foes to save the world from darkness.

Accompanying him in his journey is a motley crew of JRPG archetypes, and many of them are girls that he can date.

Being a game with dating sim elements, Meis is a horny teenager who tries to flirt with every female character in the game, and eight or so girls oblige him with dates. Ideally, you would expect these dates to reveal some character growth between Meis and any of the girls he dates (including some who are actual party members). Yet, these "dates" are only a series of random questions (that aren't unique to each girl" with obvious correct answers. They are boring, useless, and offer little value. Except, they are actually required if you need to use your "Spirit Blacksmith" power to upgrade your weapons.

The emptiness of these dates extent to the boring story itself. While it tries to be a "funny" JRPG, the humor doesn't land often and is a poor excuse for having a predictable plot and boring characters.

However, it is worth noting that the game has extensive voice acting, which is actually mostly good and works to disguise the vapidity of the game's plot.

"Even more important than my land... is my property... Errr, my people! It's my duty to protect my people"

Normally, a good gameplay system will allow me to power through a mediocre story. No such luck here. True, this is not a terrible battle system, but it can get very slow by design.

While you have three members in the party, each battle is a one-on-one affair. Only the front member of each team can attack each other, while the background characters provide passive support and encouragement. In battle, you choose the actions of the front character and the back characters and execute the action manually once an activity gauge fills for each line.

As you can imagine, battles can drag on for quite a while. Also, this means that you don't get the most out of all of your party, and only use one of them at a time. Even their background activities are lacking in impact, as most spells and skills can only be used in the front.

Sure, some abilities allow you to target all enemies at once, but that costs resources that end up wasting as much time to recuperate.

Overall, it is a unique and interesting battle system that simply wastes too much time in every regular battle, doesn't fully utilize all of your party, and doesn't make use of much of your abilities.

"The happier the girl, the stronger her elemental power"

Outside of battles, the other major gameplay system is the cringy dates you go to. Unfortunately, these dates are of significant importance to the game even if you don't find any intrinsic value in them at all.

As you date girls and raise their "intimacy" levels, you can forge more powerful spells into your weapons.

Other than having these multiple-choice answer dates, you can also engage in a different mini-game with each girl, and these are mostly fun, but they make it easier to raise the intimacy level instead of raising it by themselves.

Ironically, as I progressed through the game, I realized that many skills are useless, and as such dating can be a double waste of time. However, the strongest skills are still locked at the highest intimacy levels, so there is no way out of these empty cringe-filled scenes.

"All I wanted was to make a powerful sword. Is this a reflection of my desire? A raging evil?"

Visually, this is a sprite-heavy game that uses a unique and expressive style that didn't wane with the effect of age. The closest game to its visual style is Guardian Heroes on the Sega Saturn

Outside of battle, the sprites are chibi-sized, expressive, and look different from any other game I played. In battles, characters and enemies face each other like in a 2D fighting game, and they look really good, even if some people may not appreciate the exaggerated looks. Especially the enemies, which feature some punk-rock kind of style.

Also, given the importance of the dating sim elements, there are frequent instances when the characters take to each other in full Anime-styled panel-scenes. These showcase a completely different design aesthetic than the exaggerated looks you see in the rest of the game, conforming fully to 90s Anime sensibilities.

Musically, the game's soundtrack is acceptable. While it has some great tracks, I mostly found it to be forgettable and unremarkable.

Weirdly, the voice acting, despite having some awkward or hammy moments, is actually pretty good. This probably was some of the best voice acting in a localized JRPG at the time.

In Conclusion:

Thousand Arms is a mediocre game both as an RPG and a Dating Sim. It has interesting gameplay ideas that are hampered by the awkwardness and slowness of their execution, and it has no interesting story or characters to successfully craft an interesting Dating Sim element in the game.

In fact, all it succeeds in doing is wasting some perfectly good design ideas and voice acting in a game that excels at practically nothing. It isn't fun to battle when battles take too long, the story isn't that good, and sure as hell it isn't fun to have dates in.

Final: 5/10

Pros:

  • The forging mechanic is interesting.
  • Unique and stylistic graphical presentation that didn't dull with age.
  • The story is sometimes funny.


Cons:

  • The dating mechanics is a boring waste of time.
  • Almost all characters are boring archetypes with no semblance of personality.
  • The combat, while unique and interesting, is criminally slow by design.
  • Neither story nor characters are interesting enough to power through the game.
  • This game has one of the worst protagonists I have ever seen.


"Tips"
1-To upgrade weapons, forge them as the girl level up.
2-To gain spells from forging, forge when the intimacy levels of any girl increase.
3-To get all spells, make sure to forge at all intimacy levels because you don't get the back skills (for example, if you increase intimacy from 3 to 5, forging will not give you the spells of the 4th level).
4-Succeeding at dates means you should lie to the girls and not reveal how much of a jerk your character is really is.
5-You can only forge weapons up to your current "Charisma" level, so don't let intimacy outpace charisma.


"Next Game"

I was willing to ignore or tolerate the boring and idiotic dating scenes in the game, after all, I made it clear that I am actively turned-off by dating sim elements in most games. However, I wasn't willing to ignore the slow and boring gameplay, along with a weak and unremarkable story. As such, I really didn't enjoy Thousand Arms, even if I didn't butcher its score (because it still has some fun and funny elements).

The next game in my addendum PS1 review list is a cult Survival Horror game, Clock Tower, which has two games on the PS1. Here is hoping it is better than Alone in the Dark, although I suspect the first game in the series will seriously show its age.

Stay Tuned
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Post by Lord Spencer Thu 28 Jan - 12:23:09

#A63(S)

Game: Clock Tower.
Year: 1996, 1997.
Genre: Adventure Horror.
Publisher: ASCII Entertainment, Human Entertainment.
Developer: Human Entertainment.

The Official PlayStation 1 Gaming Threads - Page 2 14351-clock-tower-playstation-front-cover

One common mistake used when discussing the Clock Tower series is to claim that it is a derivative of the Resident Evil games, which is false both from a chronological and gameplay perspective. This series actually started on the SNES, and it plays nothing like Capcom's marquee franchise. For starters, this is an Adventure-Horror game with point-and-click gameplay.

However, it is true that the first game on the PS1 owes much of its success to the interest in Survival Horror games that was generated by the first Resident Evil. I can't imagine many of those who punted on the looks and feel of this game were left satisfied.

"The giant scissors once again search for prey. A trail of horror stretches across Europe, from Norway to England"

Nominally, the story is a continuation of the events of the first SNES game. In that game, an orphan girl, Jennifer, survived the brutal attacks of an almost supernatural murderer. This Jason-inspired murderer uses giants Scissors as a murder weapon and is therefore dubbed Scissorman.

In this game, you get to choose to follow the story of either Jennifer or her guardian, Helen, as they stumble into yet another Scissorman murder spree and try to survive it or to destroy him. Based on how you progress through the game, the items you find, and the clues you gather, there is one of five endings available for each character, of which only one is unquestionably good.

While the set-up is unoriginal, there is no excuse for the weak story and dialogue at play here. Generally, you expect some seriously good dialogue and exposition in any decent point-and-click game, but we get little of that here. This is made even more obvious by the inconsistent use of voice acting, which is available in some scenes only despite the entirety of the game's dialogue barely being 5 pages long. Naturally, this doesn't allow any of the game's characters to be properly developed at all.

What is worse for me is the lack of any interesting lore or background documents you can sink into, something that should be standard in any decent Horror game. While the opening cinematic and exposition dialogue hints at an interesting backstory for Scissorman, none of that is explored with any rigor in the actual game.

"Who will make it through this game of murder alive?"

There are two parts to Clock Tower's point-and-click gameplay mechanics. First, there is the tried and true area navigation and clicking on everything to get info and items. Here, you are expected to read the clues provided by the game to know where to go next and how to use the items you gather. Unfortunately, with such a blurry environment, it becomes very easy to miss vital points which may require you to backtrack for a long time or miss the best endings.

The poor pointer is more critical in the second part of the gameplay. In both random and set-points, Scissorman bursts into the scene and you go into escape mode. Here, you either run and find a hiding space (which Scissorman my uncover and kill you) or find a one-use weapon in the environment to knock him out for a bit. Of course, this can get difficult if your eyes can't distinguish the details in the environment. Still, these sections are usually the best thing the game has to offer.

Being an early 3D point-and-click game, Clock Tower was clearly at a technical disadvantage since interactions are barely noticeable in an early muddy 3D environment. This, coupled with an honestly unresponsive pointer meant that playing the game was frustrating most of the time.

Thankfully, the game is mercifully short. In fact, there are only three scenarios, with only the third one providing any semblance of complexity (or atmosphere). I guess that encourages replaying the game to get the better endings (since you also unlock hints along the way).

"What in the #@%! is going on? We haven't even solved the last case yet and now another mass murderer?"

This is the first game made by Human Entertainment that utilizes 3D graphics, and it shows. You can even compare it to the 3D images made by the same studio later and you will see a massive difference (check out the fight scenes in Vanguard Bandits).

As such, the poor character design and animation can be excused and is even somewhat charming in its own historical way. In fact, there are some effective jump-scare moments that manage to land despite the ugly graphics. Unfortunately, the gameplay, which depends on clear visual cues, suffers because of this.

One time, I accidentally clicked on a wall while Scissorman was chasing me, and lo and behold, I clicked on a crowbar I used to bash him on the head. I had no idea there was a crowbar there and couldn't identify it when I loaded until I squinted for two minutes at some black spot.

As for the game's audio, the voice acting is competent but is not always present. And the music is mostly atmospheric but with a catchy and interesting main theme.

The best use of audio is reserved for Scissorman, whose theme plays just before he burst into the scene (during the random moments not the scripted ones), and then he starts chasing you while clanging his giant metal scissors. That clanking sound informs you how much time is left until the bursts into the room and is a constant and welcome source of tension.

In Conclusion:

Clock Tower is a game that doesn't have a good story, isn't very fun to play, and offers little in terms of production design. I struggle to come up with a reason why anyone would want to play this game nevermind actually enjoying it.

Yet, for kids especially kids playing together, I imagine them having a blast whenever Scissorman bursts into the scene and having a laugh when they fail to evade him. As an adult, I a not having a blast repeating the last 15 minutes because I couldn't see the thing I was supposed to click half of the time and randomly dying the other half.

Final: 3/10

Pros:

  • The main music theme is alright.
  • Running away from Scissorman can be tense at times.


Cons:

  • The story and dialogue are sparsely provided.
  • The gameplay is boring and uninteresting.
  • Puzzles require a punishing adherence to a sequence.
  • For a point-and-click game, the game's pointer is severely lacking.
  • The muddy graphics doesn't help to differentiate from what is an actual point of interest.


"Tips"
1-Click on everything with an activity mark to get info and items.
2-Some items you get early on are necessary to get the best endings in the last scenario.
3-You need to remember where you send the statue at the beginning of the game.
4-There are two protagonists, Helen and Jennifer. To choose Helen, speak to Harris only one time the first time you see him in the prologue. Otherwise, speak to him twice to choose Jennifer.


"Next Game"

I remember my cousins telling me that Clock Tower was an interesting and "REALLY SCARY" game when I was young. Right now, I disagree on both counts. However, they may have been speaking about Clock Tower II: The Struggle Within, which I am supposed to review next.

If I find Clock Tower II to be as bad as the first game, then I will skip reviewing it, and you can consider this review to cover both games. If that happens, then I will love directly to game #62 in the addendum list, Saiyuki.

Stay Tuned
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Post by Lord Spencer Sat 13 Mar - 0:25:04

#A62

Game: Saiyuki: Journey West.
Year: 1999, 2001.
Genre: Tactical RPG.
Publisher: Koei.
Developer: Koei.

The Official PlayStation 1 Gaming Threads - Page 2 File:Saiyuki_Journey_West_cover

Saiyuki: Journey West is one of the rare titles that deserve the "hidden gem" classification since it fulfills both parts of that qualification. It is hidden in the sense that few people have heard of it, with fewer actually playing it. It is a gem because it is actually a really solid game.

It is a Tactical RPG made by Koei, the masters behind the massive strategy series Romance of the Three Kingdoms, that is inspired by the Chinese epic, Journey to the West. With decent gameplay and a surprisingly good combination of story and characters, there is much to love about Saiyuki.

Yet, despite that, the game doesn't pull as much as it should. I don't feel compelled to continue going forward and feel I have to force myself back to the game. That lack of a pulling factor ultimately keeps the game from being a particularly shiny gem, but it is a gem nonetheless.

"A monk from Golden Temple must be sent to Thunder Temple in India"

The story, as the game's title suggests, is loosely based on the famed Chinese epic. It stars a female or male monk, needs Sanzo, as he is tasked by the gods to journey West from China to India. At the start of his journey, he is given a magical staff and is accompanied by the magical monkey warrior, San Goku.

Throughout the first chapter, Sanzo meets the rest of the party, which is all compromised of magical beast warriors like San Goku. These beings are called "were" in the game's world, and they have the power to transform into terrifying monster forms. Being a good-hearted soul, Sanzo is not frightened by these "monsters", and he can accept them for who they are beneath their monstrous forms.

These characters form the backbone of the game's story, and their interactions together are frequent, funny, and work well in fleshing them out. Outside of the main party, some optional party members join along the way, but these don't get as much focus as the first six party members, and I didn't use them as much for gameplay reasons.

At each "level', the party encounters a minor disturbance to resolve, and while most of these are simple bandit attacks, some actually offer some interesting story bits and lessons. In fact, these minor stories are generally better than the overall story which involves a one-dimensional evil "demon" threat".

Overall, the story is decent, but it is elevated by a surprisingly good cast of characters that I will remember for some time.


"Sanzo, those are the Devils. They oppose the Lord Buddha. They bring destruction"

In its gameplay department, Saiyuki offers two unique gameplay elements that are heavily linked to its story. First, Sanzo is able to summon Guardians that give a passive bonus to all allies for three turns. Second, each of your allies has a "were" transformation that can massively turn the tide of the battle.

Both elements are balanced in way not to break the game, but are absolutely needed to win some of the tougher battles.

The Guardian summons waste a turn for Sanzo and their passive bonus is affected by prxomity to the the hero. Also, you can only summon one Guaridan at a time, which means you cannot activate all passive bonuses at the same time.

As for the "were" transformation, only one character at a time can engage it, and there is a universal "were" meter that governs how many moves you can make in that form (with more powerful moves costing more meter).

Its great that the game has these two unique systems, because it otherwise is a relatively slow and simple TRPG. Maps and objectives are similar, and the gameplay is slow that I must recommend you to stop all battle animations to enjoy the game.

A big reason for that sluggish aspect is the low movement stat of most characters except San Goku and Ryorin. San Goku has an excellent teleportation ability that allows him to cross vast distances, and Ryorin is pretty mobile in both regular and "were" from. The others are significantly slower, so much that it forces you to slow the entire battle so as not to isolate your two faster character (or have them hog all the experience).

It is worth noting that this doesn't become an obvious issue until the latter third of the game, at which point there is already a feeling that the story is a little bit longer than it should have been.

"Idiot! You think you'd actually make it alone?!"

Outside of battles, there a some other gameplay and story activities to take part in. Each city has a number of stores that offer some side story tidbits, with some composing a series of sidequests that can help you gain special spells or equipment.

Some of the bigger cities have "job posts" which allow you to do bounty missions to gain money and experience. Another way of getting experience is competing in each city's "dojo" and challenging the master of those dojos.

Unfortunately, this means that most of the side activities will require you to engage in just more of the same battles, which become boring over time. In fact, I would argue that this ruins the balance of the game to a certain degree, but is needed to keep your equipment up to speed with your progress.

It's never a good sign that playing more of the game can be considered a negative, but that's the case with Saiyuki, as it is a perfectly good game for two thirds of the time but it drags on wastefully at times.

Thankfully, there is also an admittedly fun card game that can help you get some great equipment, and some of the optional story bits are charmingly funny.

"Humans are like that. If you're different, they treat you like dirt"

Like many of the PS1 games that ignored the trend for fully polygonal graphics, Saiyuki is a much better-lloking game fo it. The sprite graphics are really good, and the character's designs really show in the design of these sprites as well as their animations.

Of particular note is the gorgeous large portraits that are normally made by Koei for the Romance of the Three Kingdoms games. These portraits are not only really beautiful, but they are varied and convey emotions really well.

These emotions are then conveyed in the sprites themselves, which look great, but not spectacular. Something that should look amazing is the "were" transformation for each character. However, these outsized sprites did not properly enlarge and their blockiness is apparent because of that.

It is worth mentioning that the special effects for transformations, spells, and various special attacks are really good. However, in order to speed up battles, I wholeheartedly recommend you turn them off.

What you shouldn't turn off is the game's soundtrack, which has some really good music. Of particular note is the heoric theme "Ally of Justice" and the battle music "The Strangest Monkey in History". These are some really nice tracks that are demonstrative of the general style of the game.

True, there aren't many tracks considering the length of the game, but what's in is worth listening to. That wasn't immediately apparent given the terrible music in the game's Anime opening (which is awful in an rendering 90's way).

In Conclusion:

When the biggest complaint about a good game is that there is simply too much of it, then it means that game is probably worth at east giving a try.

In the case of Saiyuki: Journey West, here is a game with interesting story and characters and some really solid production and gameplay. Sure, the game does wear its welcome a bit, but that didn't ruin the fun I already had with the game.

Final: 7/10

Pros:

  • The graphics and music are really good
  • It has some charming characters
  • The TRPG gameplay has some interesting ideas


Cons:

  • The game is a bit too long for its own good
  • Battles become really slow by the end of the game
  • Getting items in a level can drag things even further


"Tips"
1-Utilize the correct "were" form for the situation, you can only engage one form at a time.
2-Use the dojo to get exp.
3-Use the post to get money.
4-Turning to "were" damages nearby enemies and help expose item chests.
5-Turn off attack animations to save time (you will thank me for that).
6-Customize your key party members to have one elemental magic (always upgrade the spells for everyone except those with low MP).
7-Learn how to use San Goku's cloud ability to the max.


"Next Game"

I a glad that I played Saiyuki: Journey West as part of this review series, since I wouldn't have otherwise been exposed to it. It truly is a hidden gem, and I can imagine loving it much more if I played it when it was first released. However, I cannot ignore some of its faults at my current level of experience.

Next in the list is another game that I would have probably loved to bits back in the game but is famous for being a flawed gem; Saga Frontier. Initially, I was going to cancel this review since a "remastered" version of the game is being released on the Nintendo Switch. However, since the game is built for multiple playthroughs, and because the smoothed sprites look bad on the remastered version, I am going forward with playing this game.

Stay Tuned
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Post by Lord Spencer Mon 22 Mar - 18:40:23

#61(A)

Game: SaGa Frontier.
Year: 1997, 1998.
Genre: JRPG.
Publisher: Squaresoft, Sony.
Developer: Squaresoft.

The Official PlayStation 1 Gaming Threads - Page 2 266655-saga-frontier-playstation-front-cover

Despite routinely selling and scoring less than average for a Squaresoft JRPG, the SaGa series continued to be developed by the company since its inception as the second Final Fantasy games. That must mean that the series has some really dedicated fans.

That's the only explanation why SaGa Frontier, a game that is incomplete in many ways, opaque in others, and generally deficient in structure, is so loved by many.

Honestly, when the game clicks, I can see something close to greatness here. However, that moment is often hidden in a cloud of anxiety and frustration that encompasses most of the game.

"Our kingdom does not need two incomplete magicians. We need a superior one. And that, we believe, is you"

The SaGa series is known for having a penchant for multiple protagonists and non-linear storytelling, and that doesn't change here. From the start, you have the choice of one out of seven main characters, and each has different stories to tell.

Ranging from Red's mostly linear story to the completely open tale of Lute, your narrative experience depends heavily on which character you choose first. Generally, it is recommended to go with the more linear stories first, since that teaches you about the various locations in the game.

In theory, this allows you to experience the world and character of SaGa Frontier from multiple angles. In practice, these are mostly cliched stories with no room to grow into anything interesting. Ironically, that may be less due to the writer's skills and more due to budget concerns.

You see, there were actually eight planned stories, but the eighth was cut due to budget concerns. However, that's not the only thing that was butchered in development. Two characters have stories that conclude suddenly, and Lute, the character who is supposed to tie everything together, has barely any narrative to speak-off.

Ultimately, each character's path boils down to collecting characters and doing the exact same sidequests as the rest. The only difference being the opening narrative, the main characters, and the opening chapters

"I don't want him to commit any more crimes. Even in his madness, I still consider him a friend"

While SaGa Frontier's lacking story may be augmented and developed through the layer's imagination, there is, unfortunately, no such player input regarding its opaque gameplay and progression mechanics.

Let's be clear, the combat in the game is excellent. There are a lot of skills, magic trees, and the five party members can do some spectacular combo moves in potentially challenging battles. However, getting into battle-worthy shape may be a little random and tricky.

Like any SaGa game, the game forgoes Levels and exp in exchange for random stat bonuses after battling, random acquiring of skill, and a significant need for grinding. Besides being an unpredictable progression system, the non-linear nature of the game creates a constant sense of unease at being underpowered in any given area.

As a result, it is rare for the player to match the power-level of the area, and combat ranges from absurdly easy to brutally unfair. This sometimes happens in the same area, where a brutal enemy casually appears within a set of normal foes just to clean you out.

The level of opaqueness is increased in this game with the addition of three other races, each of which progresses in a unique and equally mysterious way. For me, the only way to feels safe in the game was to grind like crazy, and with a group of 15 characters developing randomly, that's a hell of a lot of grinding.

"It was the only way to save your life. I had to make you a Hero"

Let's say you studied the complex growth mechanics and random nature of progression, and you mastered the game's excellent battle system and had the perfect level for each area of the game. At that point, you would be primed to get the best out of the game.

Here is where SaGa Frontier fails to live up to its premise.

While theoretically having seven different stories, each story tasks with nearly going through the same sidequests and dungeons. Of course, each playthrough is slightly different because of the large cast of potential supporting characters. However, these characters differ in small ways and bring very little change to the table.

More varying is the choice of Magic school you focus on in each playthrough, which opens up different quests. Yet, generally, in order to level-up enough to fight the final boss, you are recommended to go through all magic quests even if you are planning to focus on only a few.

I believe that the sense of first discovery and playing the game blindly is the best way to enjoy the game. Guides can simply spoil things and expose how shallow and predictable the game actually is. Instead, the player who is super-patient and willing to enjoy the game's opaque mechanics and sense of direction is the one who is going to get the most out of it.

"Ladies, this isn't a movie. It's the real thing"

Usually, I would sing unqualified praises for sprite visuals in most PS1 games, but that cannot be the case here. While it looks great at times, there are just too many weird visual choices in the game for me to ignore.

For instance, from a technical and visual perspective, the graphics in the latest SNES Romancing SaGa is significantly better. In contrast, the weird mushy sprites against the static 3D background is lacking. This is not the same block (but charming) nightmare that is Final Fantasy VII but it is not much better.

The closes game visually is Star Ocean 2 and that game looks much better. Although special credit should be given to the varied design of the game's many cities.

It's worth noting that the upgraded visuals in the upcoming Remastered version actually make things worse. The low res graphics add some much-needed charm (like a layer of vaseline) to graphics that would look ugly, inconsistent, and cheap if they were upgraded.

On the other hand, the game's soundtrack is very good as is expected from the Squaresoft sound team. Kenji Ito is not as famous or accomplished as other Square composers, but his energetic and modern jazzy tunes work well for the game.

Too bad I was being too stressed by the game to enjoy the music.

In Conclusion:

When the best way to enjoy a game is to power through the mysteries of its mechanics and the weaknesses of its direction, then that's not the mark of a great game. Yet many love that aspect about it.

True, SaGa Frontier is widely ambitious in its world design and scope, but that ambition has clearly taxed the developers greatly, with much missing content and haphazardly designed quests.

On top of all of that, the game carries the same unpredictable curse that is the SaGa growth system, which to me, simply subtracts from any game that features it.

Final: 5/10

Pros:

  • Very good battle system when it clicks
  • Variety of characters and paths
  • Very good music


Cons:

  • Game is unfinished
  • The usual random growth style of the SaGa series
  • Lack of direction in both story and gameplay
  • Multiple significant difficulty spikes
  • Need for a lot of grinding


"Tips"
1-Pick Red's quest first.
2-Developing monsters can be a gamble.
3-Consult a mechanics guide to figure some things out.


"Next Game"

At this stage, I should be extremely confident that I simply cannot appreciate the chaoticially weird style and mechanics of the SaGa series. After all, I was more stressed playing SaGa Frontier than relaxed.

Yet, perhaps due to some hidden masochistic desire in me, I will try to play the sequel, which is considered to have fixed much of the first game's flaws. However, I am not going to spend much time with it if I find it as stressful as the first. In that case, I am moving back to reviewing the main PS1 Reviews list, going back to Klonea at number 68.

Stay Tuned
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Post by Lord Spencer Wed 14 Apr - 23:10:26

#61(S)(A)

Game: SaGa Frontier 2.
Year: 1999, 2000.
Genre: JRPG.
Publisher: Squaresoft.
Developer: Squaresoft.

The Official PlayStation 1 Gaming Threads - Page 2 266660-saga-frontier-2-playstation-front-cover

Seeing the recent remaster of SaGa Frontier anyone might think that it's obviously both a better game and a more regarded title. That can also seem the case if you consider the vast amount of love for the first game compared to a relative indifference to the second.

Having played both, I can see why the first game may have more of a cult following. It's an uneven and poorly designed game, but it had a lot of ambition (that I think it failed to even remotely meet).

In contrast, SaGa Frontier 2 is a significant departure that tones down the most ambitious and non-linear aspects of the first game but offers a tighter and better-designed experience. In my opinion, it is the far superior game and is unfortunately forgotten to some degree compared to other Square games.

"I shall bestow upon you my name, and the name of my ancestors: Gustave. Become a great man. A man who will not disgrace our name"

The world of SaGa Frontier 2 is a fantasy realm that is loosely inspired by late-medieval Europe but with some clear magical elements called "Animas". In this world, every "natural" thing has its own Anima, humans included, which allows the casting of magic. Tools are created to better harness the Anima, but there are also ancient artifacts with infinite Anima's, called Quells.

Not having the multiple storylines of the first game does not mean that SaGa Frontier 2 abandons the experimental storytelling that is typical for the SaGa franchise. Indeed, while the game nominally has two intertwining stories, they unravel over several scenarios that you can play in a loose order.

The first scenario involves the rise of Gustavw, a banished prince who has the rare distinction of not having any Anima in his body. This scenario covers not only the rise of Gustavw but also the entire political movements in the game's world.

The second scenario covers the more humble but traditional adventures of Wil Knights, a Digger who tries to find the magical Quells in ancient ruins. Wil eventually encounters a powerful sentient Quell called The Egg, which threatens the peace of the entire world.

Both scenarios are to through multiple chapters spanning nearly 100 years, and starring multiple protagonists. You can pick these chapters in any order as they are revealed in the chapter-selection map. However, I think the best way to experience the story is to try and do it chronologically, which means you end up jumping through the two main storylines often.

In theory, this approach allows the game to tell a deep and intriguing story through multiple perspectives. However, in practice, this means you spend less time with characters, and some are introduced suddenly and not allowed to have any depth. In fact, the entire middle of the game suffers from lacking the impetus of the beginning or the resolution of the end.

This is a darn shame because the story in SaGa Frontier 2 is otherwise would have been very good, but the way it is being told reduces the focus on the narrative and eventually brings the whole thing down a notch.

"Soon, many Animas will disappear from the face of the earth. They will desperately fight for themselves and their families. They believe that, if I gain the throne, those things that have been lost will not have been in vain"

Typically, the SaGa games are not known to depend on their narrative brilliance (which was significantly lacking in the first SaGa Frontier) and to depend more on their gameplay and weird leveling-up system.

It is then good to know that the Turn-Based battle system in SaGa Frontier 2 is really good. The many characters you control each have different weapons and magic specialties, which allows them to tap into a variety of special moves. These moves are either physical or magical in nature and use a different resource accordingly, which naturally recovers during the battle

The main twist in the battle system is the Life Points resource. At the beginning of each round, a character can consume one LP to fully recover their health. This means that a character with 10 LP points theoretically has 10 health bars to use in the course of a dungeon, and knowing when to use LP healing vs traditional healing is a key strategy.

A strategy that is required to win against the game's tougher enemies, which will task you to fully utilize the game's various systems. From LP healing to combining specials and using "roles" which give passive benefits.

For those apprehensive about the random nature of leveling up in SaGa games, rest assured that it is more uniform and much easier to do in this game, which has much fewer stats to worry about. In fact, I never felt under-leveled at any point in the game.

That is, I never felt under-leveled until the final dungeon which is GROSSLY unbalanced, introducing a nearly insurmountable difficulty spike that may require an extra five hours of grinding to overcome. Worse, you may lock yourself from an efficient grinding opportunity and risking extending that process for five more hours.


I'm the number one Digger in the world. I'm Tycoon William!!""

Besides the regular party battle mode, there are also a number of big strategic battles in key moments in the game as well as a duel battle mode.

The big battles are limited in number and only offer an occasional twist, but duel battles are much more frequent.

In duels, one party member faces against one enemy and they can choose a combination of four moves based on their equipment (it is worth noting that the elements of the equipment you wear unlock spell casting capabilities). Picking the correct sequence of equipment causes you to either use a special move you learned or learn a new special move provided you meet the rough level requirements. This makes dueling the best way to learn special moves (which are shared across all characters).

The relative ease of unlocking moves is a massive improvement over the other SaGa games and fixes some of the problems of the series.

Outside of battle, it is worth noting that many of the chapters are simple narrative "cut-scenes". However, some chapters (which can be created) simply give you access to cities in order to shop, which is a little bit more complicated than it seems.

You see, money is really scarce and it disappears when a protagonist is no longer use, but you can convert most of the tools you get to chips, which can then be converted to money. This is an overly convoluted system that also has some positive side effects (that I didn't discover), but it adds a layer of activity outside of battles.

"Be careful. Or then, you might be consumed by the power of the Quell..."

If there is one thing you have heard about SaGa Frontier 2 then it must be its amazing 2D graphics, because they are truly some of the best graphical work on the PS1.

While character design and sprite work is great and works well in establishing the game's style, it is without a doubt the hand-painted watercolor backgrounds that take the cake. These are some sublime backgrounds, and the way the characters seamlessly navigate through them makes for a truly beautiful game.

It gives the game a storybook style that is fresh and still looks great despite the time. Sure, there are some minor complaints. Enemy models are very few, and I wish the characters had portraits. Yet, that is not nearly enough to detract from the absolute majesty of the game's graphics.

A majesty that may not be fully matched by the music, but is actually perfectly complemented by it. This is one of Masashi Hamauzu's first soundtracks for Square, and in it, you can see the classical compositions and styles he is now famous for.

This can be seen in the German titles of the game's music, which is instrumentally very classical but also has some mysterious and fantastical elements in it as well. At times, you may feel that some tracks repeat a tad too often. However, I would say that those tracks repeat at points that generate the same feeling and that the music in the game is used as a narrative element very clearly.

In Conclusion:

Despite being a huge step-up from the disappointing SaGa Frontier, this game never fully escapes the trappings of the SaGa series. It has some clear narrative weaknesses due to its non-linear and experimental storytelling and it suffers from a particularly egregious end-game difficulty spike.

Yet, despite those flaws, SaGa Frontier 2 still emerges as a game I am mostly glad I played. The battle system is really fun when it clicks, and the narrative has some strong bones even if it is not fully fleshed out.

Mostly, I won't ever forget how the game looks, and I will be reminded of its every time I listen to the game's beautiful soundtrack. It's a fun storybook even if the final chapter nearly got me to chuck into the nearest blaze.

Final: 8/10

Pros:

  • Very good battle system when it clicks
  • Excellent Graphics
  • Very good music
  • Ambitious and interesting story


Cons:

  • The experimental style doesn't flesh out the characters
  • An extremely bad difficulty spike at the end


"Tips"
1-Try and play the chapters chronologically.
2-At the end, make sure to have a safe save slot in case you want to grind at a safer location.
3-Convert your unwanted tools to Chips frequently.
4-After every chapter, check if the cities of Gruguel and Westsomething are available.
5-You can convert tools to chips in Gruguel.
6-You can fight the Megalith beast in Westsomething which helps unlock AOE specials.
7-There are some unbeatable enemies that you must flee from after surviving a couple of rounds.
8-Specialize your characters depending on their natural WP and SP points as well as their strongest weapons and elements.

"Next Game"

I am so glad I decided to play SaGa Frontier 2 despite my bad experience with the first game. It turned out to be a really fun game with some unique elements that I may not see in any other game now or in the future.

Going back to reviewing the regular Retro Sanctuary list, I don't expect Klonoa at #68 to be as unique of a game, but I hope I have a lot of fun playing it. Before that, I will first write a report about the 10 or so games I played in the Addendum list.

Stay Tuned
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Post by Lord Spencer Wed 21 Apr - 20:14:00

#68

Game: Klonoa: Door to Phantomile.
Year: 1997, 1998.
Genre: 2D Platformer.
Publisher: Namco.
Developer: Namco.

The Official PlayStation 1 Gaming Threads - Page 2 Klonoa_Door_to_Phantomile_cover

Klonoa is different from the other mascots introduced in the late 90s in that Namco balanced the edgy style of the era with a classical Japanese focus on cuteness and personality. That saved the character from being as dated and cringy as some of the other B-Tier mascots of the time.

However, an arguably more drastic departure was Namco's insistence on remaining within the tried and true 2D Platformer genre instead of going for the 3D trend. That ultimately worked for the game's favor, as is this is a really very good 2D platformer at its core, with the added bonus of having a nice story and some good graphics.

"How dare you go through my tower without ever saying hello!"

Surprisingly, the story plays a big part in this 2D platformer. Starring the mascot, Klonoa, a furry anthropomorphic amalgamation of different animals. At the beginning of the game, Klonoa finds that the happy dreams of his world are being corrupted by nightmares, which we soon find out is the work of the evil Ghadius.

Being a brave hero, Klonoa goes ahead to save his world, accompanied by the ring spirit Huepow who helps him fight enemies and traverse the landscape.

In their adventure, they meet members of the land's different tribes and solve their problems, and they are introduced to some likable characters. The dialogue is not extensive, and the story is not particularly amazing. However, the game is not shy at providing dramatic moments and ultimately getting you to care about these characters in the same way you would in a Saturday night cartoon.

For the genre, Klonoa didn't have to include any level of storytelling. Yet, in choosing to tell an engaging, if basic story, fully loaded with dialogue segments and impressive CGI scenes, Klonoa is heads and shoulders above other Platformers in the era in its story department.

"I can't allow you to save the world with your silly "Song of Rebirth""

I am not surprised to learn that Hideo Yoshizawa, the director of this game, was also the director of the NES Ninja Gaiden games. In interviews, he says that the rhythm of movement is very important to him, and that holds true in Klonoa. Basic movement is clean, fast, and precise. What is more amazing though, is that the game's central gimmick doesn't slow things down at all.

Klonoa's basic attack is to use the ring spirit and pull enemies in front of him and hold them up as inflatable projectiles. He then can throw these inflated enemies to attack or throw it downward to use as a double jump.

Here, you can imagine the game grinding to a halt every time you pull in an enemy. However, that doesn't turn out to be the case at all. The game moves at enough speed that you can continue moving as you are pulling enemies and throwing them around.

In fact, some of the more advanced moves are jumping, pulling an enemy, and throwing them down for an instant double jump. You can then chain that by pulling in another enemy and getting another jump. Basically, you can keep on moving and your basic attacking option doesn't slow things down.

Another innovation of this game is the ability to target enemies and objects in the foreground and background. This being a 2.5D Platformer, you can see enemies in the background, and you can chuck their friends at them.

This gets a lot of milage against the game's rather good bosses.

"Well, weirdos came here and messed up the castle"

You meet those bosses at the end of each "world", and each world consists of two stages. These stages are uniformly good, and they get more varied as you progress. A later stage even requires you to go to multiple parts of the stage to gather orbs or another with a more labyrinthian design.

In each stage, there are six tribe people to save, and I am not sure what purpose that serves other than the fun of doing it. Unfortunately, if you miss any tribe member to save, then you cannot repeat the stage until you beat the game.

Somehow, in what may be the game's biggest weakness, that doesn't turn out to be a big problem. After all, there are only 12 stages to play!!!

If that seems to be a short number for a PS1 game, then that's because it clearly is. I think the game should have at least 6 more stages. Others may argue that the game's length encourages replayability, but I disagree about that.

"It was a short while... But it was wonderful... My grandchild of the wind..."

The first thing you encounter with Klonao is an admittedly impressive CGI cutscene. This cutscene, like the others in the game, looks much better than other CGI scenes from the same time and is also competently directed in a way to show emotion and character.

That competency in direction shines in the game's regular graphics as well. While it is clear that sprite-based graphics would have looked much better than the 3D polygons the game uses, the solid art direction and uniform design of the game save it somewhat. Klonoa's dream-focused world looks consistent, and, well, dreamy to an extent.

Musically, the soundtrack is divided between several composers, and while the end product fits the game, you can't help but feel that it misses a solidifying vision. That doesn't keep it from having great tracks such as the soundtrack of stage 5-1.

At this point, I just remembered that this game was remade for the Wii in an expanded remake. In general, the remake is almost a reimagining of the PS1 game that keeps much of its core features while being a separate game.

One thing that remake doesn't keep is the game's cutely gibberish voice acting. Instead, it uses some seriously cringy dialogue instead. For me, the cute gibberish fits the game much more, and honestly is part of its charm.

In Conclusion:

I missed on Klonoa when I had a PS1. Maybe I was an idiot and thought it was a cute game for children. If that was the case, then I sure missed on a very good game.

A very good game that could have been great if it expanded its ideas more, and managed to include more stages.

As it is, this is a sweet and shot game that is worth the playtime for sure.

Final: 8/10

Pros:

  • Decent storyi n a platformer
  • Great control and gameplay
  • Varied levels and fun bosses
  • Consistent world design


Cons:

  • Too short
  • Doesn't fully take advantage of its gameplay mechanics


"Tips"
1-Explore the levels well if you want to find all the imprisoned tribe members.
2-Learn how to pull enemies and continue moving.
3-You can pull enemies in mid-air to do double jumps.


"Next Game"

I guess not all 90's mascot platformers aged like milk. Klonoa: Door to Phantomile was a really good game that I enjoyed playing.

Next, to play from the Retro Sanctuary list is Future Cop LAPD at #65, a 3rd person shooter that frankly expects to have aged terribly.

Stay Tuned
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Post by Lord Spencer Sat 1 May - 23:09:02

#64(S)

Game: Fear Effect
Year: 2000.
Genre: Action Adventure.
Publisher: Eidos Interactive.
Developer: Kronos Digital Entertainment.

The Official PlayStation 1 Gaming Threads - Page 2 220px-Fear_Effect

While the name and tank-style controls may suggest a Resident Evil-like Survival Horror game, Fear Effect in fact has more in common with the cinematic action games Naughty Dog likes to produce today.

This is a relatively short game that spans a massive four discs, and that's because of the vast amount of cutscenes and the fully voiced dialogue.

Normally, for a PS1 game, that would mean a game that aged terribly, with ugly polygonal graphics and cheesy voice acting. However, Fear Effect is preserved in its original cinematic vision, which was highly competent at the time, and still great to see today.

"That means we find her first... find her fast... and drop anyone who tries to stop us"

The central hook of Fear Effect is its cinematic experience, and that hugely depends on its story, characters, dialogue, and delivery. While it may have a basic action movie story with some supernatural elements baked in, the game nails the rest.

Set in a fictional futuristic Chinese protectorate, the game stars a trio of mercenaries that are attempting to find the daughter of a big Triad boss in hope of a big payday. Hana is the femme fatale of the three, and she is a strong-willed female lead with a gift for dual-wielding Uzi's and possibly a mysterious past. Glas and Deke are more straightforward cynical mercs with a penchant for one-liners.

These characters, in both their design and dialogue, sell the setting of the game. This is really some well-done writing, which works really well when coupled with the expert scene directions for most CGI scenes. It may look normal now, but games in the year 2000 rarely looked as close to movies as this one did.

You can see the influence of movies, or more specifically, the influence of B-Movies with sexy leads in the almost juvenile way the game focuses on Hana's sex appeal. An entire chapter of the game starts with an impromptu shower scene and continues with Hana fighting zombies in nothing but a towel (a fact the game then smartly uses for a gag).

So, while the narrative and main plot may not be anything special, the characters, setting, and dialogue all combine to tell a really good cinematic story. Admittedly, that may not be much of a hook to today's gamers (who are pretty used to it), but it is a historical milestone nonetheless.

"Tick... tock... tick... Talk or you will start to tick, John"

Compared to its milestone storytelling techniques, the gameplay is a more basic remix of the tried and true fixed-camera tank-style shooters that flooded the PS1. Imagine playing the original Resident Evil but with significantly more ammo and some significant dodging capability.

Shooting is a simple matter of facing the general direction of the enemy and hitting the action button. If the enemy can be hit, a green cursor will appear in the status bar. Since most enemies can shoot back, movement becomes a key element in avoiding gunfire, but that throws off your aim.

As such, the game allows you to dodge roll in fixed directions while maintaining the direction you face, and also has a quick 180 turn button. In general, I rarely ever needed to master the movement to be comfortable with the game at normal, but they are a must to master in hard mode.

In that case, the game's stiff tank controls would be more of an issue. In some ways, the game doesn't move as smoothly as Resident Evil or Metal Gear Solid, but that's not an issue until you raise the difficulty.

With three characters to control, the game missed an opportunity to make playing as each a little bit more varied. If not in movement, then at least with weapon selection. Unfortunately, there is no such variety here, and all characters play the same.

It is worth noting here however that sometimes the scenes switch at highly sensitive times giving you barely any time to react, so save often to avoid some of these cheap deaths.

"You must wash off the blood. It is the blood that drove them mad. The blood that makes them demons"

Other than the basic gun combat, the game also has some puzzles as well. These puzzles are divided into two parts: "Movement Puzzles", and "Clue Puzzles", with these categories sometimes combining.

Movement puzzles are based on observing the condition of the level and moving away from the danger. For instance, an electrified path has a pattern where some panels are safe to pass through. In this case, you can cross the path if you figure out the pattern and are able to navigate safely (which is a challenge in itself sometimes).

Clue puzzles are similar to the puzzles found in Survival Horror games or Adventure games. You find clues in the level, and then some puzzle requires your to figure out a number, a bomb deactivation sequence, or a key item usage location and order.

In general, these puzzles aren't too hard or unfair, nor are they particularly groundbreaking.

The same can be said about the game's bosses, who are fun to face most of the time despite not being especially brilliant. Hell, even the worst boss I fought was fun because of the ludicrous situation you fight him in.

"Head for the hotel... we will need to warn Deke, there's a shitstorm coming"

With its cinematic focus, the star of the game and its most important aspect is its visual and graphical department, which delivers in spades.

Forgoing an attempt at "photorealism", the game wisely tries to recreate a more comic-book style with its cell-shaded graphics. These end up aging much better than the polygonal nightmares of similarly aged games, with the added benefit of highly expressive faces.

Of course, this is mostly seen in the game's many scenes, with the actual in-game graphics still showing their age. The cell-shaded character models still look good, but the animation is a bit stiff. Also, with fixed camera angles and 2D backgrounds, areas widely differ in visual perspective (with some really cool camera angles in some areas as well).

Back to the scenes, these not only look good but are animated really well, with some solid scene and dialogue direction thanks to some mostly good voice acting. Sure, there is some typically cheesy oriental VAs, but the end product is mostly good.

The sea cannot be said about the game's soundtrack, which is almost forgettable in its focus on ambient and atmospheric music. Actually, it is indeed forgettable and I don't recall any single track.

In Conclusion:

Two elements ensured that Fear Effect didn't age too badly. First, its cell-shaded graphics in the game's many scenes still look good. Second, the characters and voice acting still makes for a compelling, if basic, cinematic experience.

As such, Fear Effect is still fun to play today even beyond a historical playthrough, and that's something that not every cinematic PS1 game can claim to be.

Final: 8/10

Pros:

  • Very Good characters and dialogue
  • Excellent scene direction
  • cell-shaded graphics aged very well
  • Expertly delivered voice acting for the most part
  • Basic gameplay loop isn't bad


Cons:

  • Awkward tank-style controls are detrimental to some puzzles and hard difficulty
  • Outside of cut-scene graphics are a little washed up
  • Weak music


"Tips"
1-Have a pen and paper handy to record solutions to puzzles.
2-Lear to duck and roll to avoid enemy fire and attack.
3-You must scroll to the blue (key) items to actually use them at the intended location.
4-Whenever the "use" command flashes, make a mental note of it. Sometimes, you need to hug a door to find it.
5-Ammo is plentiful, but don't waste too much of it.
6-You can use stealth attacks to instantly kill enemies from behind with melee weapons (if they didn't notice you).
7-Save whenever the option to save comes up.
8-Health recovers every time you clear a room from enemies, switch characters or solve a puzzle.
9-The true ending is hidden behind beating the game in Hard mode.



"Next Game"

Originally, I was supposed to play Future Cop: L.A.P.D, but it didn't seem to be my cup of tea despite being a mechanically solid game. Fear Effect was expectedly a better experience.

Now, I am looking forward to playing the sequel, which is actually the game that sits at #64 in the Retro Sanctuary top 100 PS1 games list.

Stay Tuned
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