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Retroreview: Breath of Fire III

bof3The epic saga of Ryu the dragon boy and his angelic winged companion has been retold now five different times in the Breath of Fire Capcom rpg series. But for some reason, while it might have become drab to see so many ideas rehashed in each iteration, it instead becomes more engaging. The fishing mini-games that pepper the series, the various designs of each dragon transformation, the city of Wyndia; it’s like a bunch of old friends that keep coming over to visit. You get to reminisce about the old times, but still make new memories of your own. I think that the Breath of Fire series has a sweet spot though, a place where all these ideas, combined with the change in console generation allowed Capcom to make the perfect Breath of Fire game: Breath of Fire III. And while I’ll stay away from reviewing III against either it’s predecessor, II (which is my next favorite) or the follow up IV (which is almost as awesome as II and III) it’s hard to talk about Breath of Fire without reflecting on the history of the series. So as I share some of my opinions, I will try to review the game as it is on it’s own, though being the BOF lover that I am, you can expect some comparison. Breath of Fire III tells the tale of a young dragon boy named Ryu (one of the only series that I don’t change the name of the protagonist…weird) who wakes up in a mine as a little dragon and begins to torch the locals. Seriously. For all the lighthearted moments III has, this is a pretty dark intro. In any case, you eventually end up partnered with a couple of thieves in a small town trying to rob the locals. The story is generally light in tone and primarily character driven, with the plot revolving around the discovery of who Ryu is and where he came from.  Garr, one of the games more interesting characters, is a five hundred year old Guardian that has an interesting history with The Brood (the family of dragons), and he and Ryu play the major roles in moving the story along.  Without spoiling too much, I found the story kept me engaged all the way through, although often it was side story plot points that I enjoyed the most. Tracking down The Ancient Mariner, robbing a local Mayor, freeing a powerful member of The Brood from prison, battling in a tournament; these all served as character driven side points to the over-arching plot, but I never felt like it was just a bunch of fetch quests. Instead I found myself wanting more quirky tasks so that I could explore new towns and areas. Speaking of exploration, the side quests and mini games are really strong in Breath of Fire III. The fishing is a huge step forward from II, and boasts both huge challenges and some pretty awesome rewards. The mini game itself has received quite a bit of attention, and you can tell by the variety of fish, rods, and tackle that quite a bit of time was spent making this part of the game really fun. The other major side quest is the Faery Village. Here you assign work duties for a group of Faerys and over time they build up their village to include special shops and jobs that can really empower your team with new weapons and accessories. I really liked the balance here, because the village grows every ten battles or so, which means checking the village after every dungeon is a treat as you will return to see lots of new growth. The cast is really strong this time around. Nina is (again) the winged companion, princess of Wyndia. She’s so similar to the Nina of IV that I honestly can’t tell them apart. Rei is a big tiger that wields dual knives and excels at speed and thievery. Garr is a massive dragon like guy that is extremely old and battles with a spear. Momo, a personal favorite of mine, is the nerdy scientist of the group. She uses a cannon and supports the team with healing spells. Peco is a plant and my least favorite, only because he’s so strange, although I have heard many say he is the strongest in the game. And of course Ryu is the mute protagonist, wielding a sword and turning into a monstrous dragon at whim. While the cast is cool and interesting, I should also note that they tend to not have much personality outside of the story scenes, which is an area I felt was lacking. For instance, an important scene in which Ryu and Rei are reconnected after many years took about three sentences, after which they never talk to each other again. It was really strange. Childhood friends don’t just ignore each other, AND go on a massive quest that covers the whole globe together. I think the developers were hoping to further flesh out the characters by talking in the camp menu, but this doesn’t quite work. They don’t really have conversations, just make statements. A little back and forth in camp would’ve gone a long way. But still, there is some great interaction between characters, and I have a fondness for each of them. (Or maybe I’m just playing too many Tales games and think every game needs skits?)

Turn based goodness

Turn based goodness

The battle system is very traditional with a few neat twists. Your party of three dukes it out in a turn based battle against the enemy horde using attacks, skills and magic. (And in some cases dragon transformations…). Turn order is decided by agility and then you start to smack each other until one or the other dies. The pace of battles is nice and quick, which is good considering how many you will fight. If the game had any major fault it would be the incredibly high random encounter rate. While this is usually a huge turn off for  me, the speed of battles and the need for experience made me accept it without too much frustration. Although I will admit to a couple dungeons feeling a tad too long. One of the cooler elements of the game is the master system. Once apprenticed to a master, every level a character gets will receive stat bumps in certain areas, as well as learn new skills. I apprenticed Ryu first to a master that bumped strength and then moved him over to agility. Needless to say, by the midpoint of the game, Ryu was ending most battles by himself, and also earning extra turns every couple of rounds. (An extra turn is earned by any character with double the agility of the enemy. Not too hard to build an entire party that can earn extra turns regularly.) But you also have characters that thrive on high defense or intelligence and it’s pretty easy to track down the right masters. I loved this because not only does it make grinding for levels so much more interesting, but searching for the masters added yet again to the exploration factor. By the time you’ve moved skills around however you want, and apprenticed to your favorite masters, the customization of each party member is almost completely controlled by the player. This is some very forward thinking for a game from 1997. Music is solid, and enjoyable, though not particularly memorable. I think IV did a much better job of making the music really fit and stand out, but in III you will find the music is happy and almost cute, which is really a theme throughout the game. One small annoyance was the battle theme by about the ending dungeons. It started to kind of grate on me at that point. The high encounter rate probably played into this as well. Ok, lets do a final rundown! 1. Should I play this game? This is a GREAT retro psx rpg. If your’e in the mood for one of the better 90’s games then this is for you. I think they really nailed it on a lot of different levels. 2. Do I need an FAQ to really enoy it? I would be careful about using an FAQ because the game really doesn’t need one. You just may need help tracking down master locations, but be careful not to spoil the story. It has a few great twists. 3. How hard is Breath of Fire III? This game is really easy if you level grind a little bit in the right areas and pay attention to the masters carefully. Which shouldn’t be too hard since this is one of the better parts of the game. But even after leveling up like crazy the final boss was tough, which I appreciated. 4. What was your favorite thing about Breath of Fire III? I LOVED how long you play as kid Ryu. I didn’t mention this earlier, but be prepared to play as a child for about half of the game. It sounds annoying, but it really makes for some enjoyable storytelling when you and the others all grow up. 5. How long did you play? I put in around 50 hours or so. But I did tons of fishing and abused a certain leveling trick involving a Lava Man. So that’s probably ten more than you need. If you only level up the party you plan on using and stop around lvl 40 you could beat it in under 40 hours  I think. (I believe I read about a ten hour challenge if that’s helpful). 6. How much does Breath of Fire III cost? I bought it on psx so I could play it on my PS3, which ran me around $30 for a pretty decent copy. A new copy will run you serious cash, but you can probably find a good used copy for under $40. Last I saw the PSP remake was around $30 as well. Ok, retrogamers! I can’t stress enough how enjoyable my winter was playing Breath of Fire III! If you haven’t played this yet, go grab a copy and get your fishing pole out, and let me know what you think!

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The Next-Gen RPG Roundup

This is the last few days of our current gen consoles being the “top of the line” hardware. In only a few short months I’ll be firing up my shiny new PS4 and dreaming about FFXV. The marriage of the Playstation and Playstation 2 with JRPG’s has been one of the major reasons I have enjoyed both of those consoles. But now with the PS3 about to be moved over to the console graveyard (I know that’s harsh, I’m keeping mine at least for a while) I thought it might be interesting to really look at what our current gen consoles provided in the RPG department and ask ourselves a few questions. Namely, what did we get out of this console generation, and what should we expect out of the next? So here is a rundown of all the PS3 RPG’s I played (and a couple 360 games I played before it went Red Ring on me) and my thoughts on what they brought to the table.

Final Fantasy XIII, XIII-2

I included both of these titles together, and I know that Lightning Returns is still around the corner, but I think of them in tandem. They both used the most recent version of the beloved ATB battle system, and really ended up being pretty decent games. No, neither of them were perfect, but I personally found both to be in the “must play” category for the current gen JRPG lover. I think that SE did a nice job of showing us that turn-based battle systems don’t have to be boring. (Hyperdimenion Neptunia anyone?) Just because the action doesn’t take place in real time combat doesn’t mean that the system needs to be dull, slow or lacking in style. I would also give XIII some props for leading the way with a great female protagonist in Lightning, who has really become a mascot for SE on this console. Bravo!

White Knight Chronicles, II

I think that Level 5 has taught us something with these two games, and it’s not good: no-one wants to play zillions of ours of mediocre online content. Either be an MMO and create a great online community, or be a game with a story and all the usual fixings. I can’t help but think that these games would have been great if they had focused on one (MMO elements) or the other (story etc.) and instead we got one game that was broken up into two parts, that tells a mediocre story, features a mediocre battle system and an online community that turned off it’s servers faster than you can mute the game’s terrible voice acting. That said, I actually found myself liking this game. The graphics were great, and I loved that you could have a fully customized character AND the usual JRPG cast. Also giant mech’s are always a good thing. Too bad the battle system was kinda dull! I really wanted to love these games:(

Demon Souls, Dark Souls

These two games were probably some of the best on the console. Amazing immersive feel; great online content; awesome end game and plus game content; fantastic battle mechanics and bosses; so much death. I don’t know that I want to go ahead and say that the Souls’ games are the poster child for this gen of RPG’s, but they’re darn close. I can fire up a new character anytime and still feel excited about every encounter and frustrated by every death. What did we learn? Hard can be fun as long as you make it rewarding. Also PvP is pretty great.

Star Ocean The Last Hope International

Where to begin? Great battle system surrounded by lots of crap? Yeah that sounds about right. I love the updates to the International version on the PS3 though. The retro setting and Japanese voices really enhance this one. Too bad the cast is so annoying. I think that the one thing TLH taught me was that the classic JRPG trappings are only good if they are done well. Otherwise its just the same old crap with HD graphics. Smaller maps, more cohesive story, more diverse locations and more save points would have really put this game on the map. It’s a nice addition if you play primarily for the battles, but in the end I’m still craving a next-gen Star Ocean game that feels like SO2.

Two Worlds II

More mediocrity. This is a game that I have given the old college try numerous times. And yet I keep failing. I just can’t seem to care about any of the characters I make or anything they do. It’s not BAD per se, it just leaves no impression. I get the vague sense of having played it before, and it has the occasional bit of charm. In the end it doesn’t add much to the genre, and the bottom line is that other games just do all the same things better…namely:

Oblivion, Skyrim

The Bethesda games (I’m including Fallout 3 and New Vegas in this section as well) I will put together because they all FEEL the same to me. Spooky games, with great open world conent and solid levelling systems make for some amazing role playing. I think that the only real problem with these games is that the sheer amount of content makes them a bit tedious after a while. But that’s a pretty poor criticism. I mean who complains about TOO MUCH content? I guess I just wish they had focused a little more on making each quest line really really good, instead of going for quantity. Great job of nailing the open world solo experience though.

Tales of Vesperia, Tales of Graces f, Tales of Xillia

These games probably contain the best of the JRPG elements to be found on the current gen consoles. While most other series have either gone off the deep end or just disappeared entirely, the Tales games have managed to hang on to the things that make them great: good writing and excellent battle systems. Graces f has by far the best battle system of all the Tales games (in my humble opinion) and I might even suggest it was the best battle system on the whole console if I had to pick just one. Xillila is slightly more enjoyable than Graces only because I like the characters more. Vesperia is a fantastic game which only remains in third place because it still uses the old TP system that I’m personally pretty much done with. Yuri is a refreshing lead character though.

Lost Odyssey

If I had to pick ONE game that I think really nailed the true JRPG experience on the current gen consoles, it would be Lost Odyssey. It just hit all the right notes to me. I mostly enjoyed the cast, and I really loved the lead hero’s back story of immortality. Very creative. The plot unfolded in pretty great fashion as well, with some striking surprises along the way. And while the battle system was a little last gen, the addition of the ring system helped keep things fresh. Great, great game.

Dragon Age Origins

While western in style and themes, DAO is still a blast to play. I think that out of all the next gen games DAO created the best classic fantasy setting. Orcs, Elves, Dwarves, Trolls and humans, sorcerors and knights, magic and armor, this was pretty traditional but well crafted gaming. Hard not to enjoy this game, especially the dragon fights! Too bad DA2 was so incredibly bad. I hope Inquisition does better. (Ok, fine, I will admint Skyrim does a better job of the classic fantasy setting than DAO.)

Atelier Rorona, Totori, Ayesha and Meruru

Where to begin? Gust has created a monster with the Atelier games, and is pumping them out at record pace. I barely have time to turn on my PS3 and there is another Gust Alchemy game with a cute protagonist making potions for me to play. I really enjoy the Atelier games except for one thing: the time element. Now don’t get me wrong, I think time management is a cool gameplay mechaninc sometimes. The problems show up when the good ending is only accessible  by playing a perfect game. This makes for a really really frustrations series of game saves and loads, and works against the overall enjoyment of the game. Still, the great art direction alone makes the Atelier games worth a look.

Resonance of Fate

I love this game! It’s weird and quirky, has a fun cast, lots of customization, and one of the most original battle systems on the console. I wish the learning curve was a little easier because it made this game very inaccessible to most gamers. Once you figure it out though it is a complete blast to play. I love the overall art direction and smart sense of style that ROF utilized. If you’re willing to dig deep and really learn the system I think there is a lot to love here.

Nier

Wow, I have so many powerful feelings about Nier. This is easily the most underrated game on this console generation. I cannot get over how powerful the narrative was, and I think the climax of Nier is by far and away the best ending of any game on this console gen. If you haven’t played Nier go to it! Nier also get’s brownie points for great music and best supporting cast. The only negative’s have to do with the curious case of clothing choices for a particular female lead…

So for the last seven or so years we have been RPGing on the current consoles, but it’s almost time to move on. For some reason, I perpetually felt disappointed by the RPG’s on the ps3 and 360, although when I look back at what was accomplished I have to feel pretty good. I think voice acting and music has grown leaps and bounds in this console generation. I also think that we have seen a new crop of battle systems being developed. Even though I’m not sure they all worked the way we might have hoped, games like Resonance of Fate and Valkyria Chronicles showed us that developers still have some creative impulses left. Another trend that we saw happen with this generation is a move away from FMV’s into story scenes that simply utilize the in-game engine. I personally have mixed feelings about this. The FMV’s in FFX for example were so exciting to watch, but I like the fuller integration we see in the storytelling in games like Xillia or FFXIII. Another bravo for this gen would be the many female leads we are seeing. Lightning, the Atelier cast, Milla from Xillia are all strong examples and I think it’s a good thing. The option to choose a fem-shepherd in the Mass Effect games is another example of progress in this area. Other changes have been simply wonderful: save anywhere; making random encounters obsolete; character customization; DLC (yeah I know it’s a mixed bag); online integration.

In summary, I think it was a pretty solid console gen. We had some of the old style gameplay, some new systems, lots of improvements, and a diverse library of games to choose from.

No we didn’t see the massive library that the ps2 era provided, but more and more I’m finding myself putting down my ps2 controller and firing up a current gen rpg, not because I want to be current, but just because the newer games are simply better. This is a promising reality! I’m getting even more excited about the Next-Gen happening soon. How about you?

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Why FFXIV: A Realm Reborn Is The Most Exciting Game of 2013 (for me anyway)

Dun dun dun DUUUNNN!

Dun dun dun DUUUNNN!

It’s only days away. I’ve already pre-purchased and installed the game, scoured the internet for information about what class I’m going to play, and studied up on the crafting system, gathering, fishing, and battles to the point that I’m just frothing at the mouth to start up my first few minutes. I even set my PS3 background theme to this awesome FFXIV image. Sigh.

I’m at that point where I’m so excited about this game that all the other games I usually love just seem dull. Instead of color they’re all in black and white. I’m inattentive at work (a problem as I have a huge project due this weekend), bored during my off hours, annoying to all my friends and family.

I really need to get a grip.

So while I wait to dive into the world of Eorzea I thought I would write up a few thoughts on exactly why this game has got me so worked up. So here it is:

Five Reasons FFXIV Is The Most Exciting Game of 2013 (for me anyway)

I want to go to there!

I want to go to there!

1. Console JRPG Action Meets The Online Community. Ok, I know that other games have sorta done this. FFXI on the ps2 and 360 for example. But FFXIV is the first of its kind when you consider this kind of gameplay on this kind of system. If you have played Demon Souls or Dark Souls you are somewhat familiar with what I am getting at here. Something amazing happens when you integrate awesome RPG mechanics with the online community. Friends are made, online relationships develop and the gaming experience is simply taken to the next level. But here’s why this is so absolutely cool: This is the first game that has fully integrated RPG mechanics, the online community and the latest technology in online communication and design with a CONSOLE. Pretty much anyway. I know Diablo III is already out there, but we’re talking a full on Final Fantasy World here folks. Very very cool.

Must...explore...every...inch

Must…explore…every…inch

2. The Design SCREAMS Final Fantasy. Anyone who is familiar with the long standing final fantasy series will immediately recognize all their favorite faces. From Moogle’s to Chocobo’s to Black Mages casting Meteor, all of my favorite FF ideas are here in full HD force. But it’s not just the characters, it’s the actual world: the way the equipment looks, the way the races are designed, the way quests look and the overhead map work. It’s like a wonderful hybrid of all the Final Fantasy “feelings” I’ve been enjoying for almost 20 years. All integrated into a game I can enjoy with my closest friends who live hundreds of miles away. Magitec Armor anyone?

Hmmmm Gladiator or Black Mage...

Hmmmm Gladiator or Black Mage…

3. Jobs, Jobs and more Jobs. The two most important things that the Final Fantasy series introduced to the JRPG were the ATB system, and the idea of Job Classes. (Not saying they invented job classes people, so don’t hate. I’m just pointing out that historically job classes have played a huge role in almost all the FF games.) Both of these ideas are present in FFXIV, but it’s the Job Classes that get me so pumped. The ability to choose a job and develop a whole “character feel” around that job is always something I love in a FF game. And the job system works wonderfully with the traditional DPS, Tank, Healer found traditionally in MMO’s. (Although word on the street is that soloing is much easier in XIV than it was in XI.) Partying in a FF game just makes sense. In fact, going all the way back to the very original Final Fantasy, it was this sense of job classes and balance in your team that made the game so interesting. (Trust me, it wasn’t the graphics). Granted you only have one character instead of a whole team to deck out, but still, I think that an MMO is the perfect vehicle for what Square Enix has created in the FF games.

I'm going to name my Chocobo "Boko"

I’m going to name my Chocobo “Boko”

4. Season of Life. This might sound weird, but for me, in the season of life I am in, this is the perfect kind of game. I can’t tell you how many nights I spend gaming, feeling bored and wishing I had someone to play with. I’m like a kid who goes out to the soccer field and tries to kick a ball around by himself, silently wishing someone else was there to kick it back. It’s the only reason I play COD, frankly. To play games with other people. And for those of you that have never tried an MMO, you should know that the stereotypes of “lonely nerds hiding in the basement” couldn’t be further from the truth. (Ok fine, I’m sure there are some lonely nerds playing MMO’s in a basement somewhere, I mean it’s a big world out there so it’s bound to happen.) In the short time I played FFXI I discovered two things: that the online community was incredibly kind and generous, and that they are interesting and intelligent human beings that are a pleasure to hang with. Also, you might not have thought about this much, but they probably have the same interests as you. After all, they’re in Eorzea too right?! Ultimately, I’m just saying that this kind of game is perfect for my season of life.

Wandering is always fun

Wandering is always fun

5. I Don’t Want to Play a Game, I Want to Enter A World. I play so many games filled with health points, levels, missions, stories, amnesia, bosses and equipment that some days my head just spins. But when I think of why I want to play FFXIV, I realize it’s not to gain a zillion levels and beat some final dragonboss (although that does sound pretty sweet), I’m rather excited about just grabbing a sword and going to BE somewhere. This might seem trite to you, but honestly, I’m exhausted with gaming. I don’t want to beat another game. I want to go be in a game and hang out and meet people. I want to fish and gather and wander aimlessly around and discover all that the world has to offer. Sounds relaxing right?

I’m pretty stoked for FFXIV as you can probably tell. It’s only the second MMO I have ever gotten into, but I am really looking forward to the experience. I hope that this can be a new chapter in gaming for me, and in only a few short days I will find out for sure.

I can’t wait! Here’s the opening trailer one more time to tide you over:) Game On!

Retrodragon

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Retroreview: Wizardry Tale of the Forsaken Land

wizardry

I love the art style

One of the primary reasons that the Playstation 2 is my all time favorite console is the sheer number of role playing games that were released on it. It’s astounding that after playing rpg’s for over fifteen years on a variety of consoles, I could still walk into a used game shop and discover an rpg that I have never even heard of…and that it could possibly be this good.

Most of us in the west are somewhat familiar with the Wizardry series of rpgs, which was originally developed on our shores. Later on, the games became a stronger series in Japan where most of the newer games have since been developed. In fact, the Wizardry games have been around LONGER than either Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest. In some ways the Wizardry games are the core reason you and I have successful console rpg’s to play at all (along with Ultima and the D&D franchise). If you want to learn more about the Wizardry games in general you can check the wiki HERE.

menu goodness

menu goodness

In the midst of the multiple Wizardry releases that Japan has seen (we are talking probably around twenty titles on systems from the Apple II to PS3) one title came over in 2001, called Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land for the PS2. I don’t know about you, but in my rush to beat Final Fantasy X for a third time, I never even heard of this game. And it really is a shame, because Tales of the Forsaken Land has lots of interesting content to offer someone who is open to a more mature role playing experience.

Like most of the Wizardry games, the core content is built around a first-person dungeon crawling experience, similar in style to some of the oldest and first rpg’s. You never see  your hero’s face, and even the town exploration (of which there is very little) is built around the first-person view. Personally, this is part of what sucked me in. Having never played a first-person rpg like this, I was surprised at how well the immersive feeling of the game was enhanced by this simple creative choice.

Deeper and deeper into the labyrinth

Deeper and deeper into the labyrinth

At it’s heart, this is a dungeon crawler. You enter the labyrinth, kill enemies, loot chests, avoid traps, and discover NPC’s and shortcuts. Secret doors and hidden places abound, and there seems to be something interesting and new to discover every time you enter the depths of the labyrinth. The hidden doors and shortcuts allow you to get deeper into the labyrinth without backtracking across the easier enemies, and keeps the game moving at a nice pace. The shortcut system reminded me of Demon Souls structure actually. The difficulty is moderate, and if you take your time and level at a good pace you will not die as often as in other similar games. One of the best parts of the dungeons is that the “Reaper” can enter at any time and chase you around and try to curse you. It’s another great way to keep the dungeon crawling fresh. The dungeons are not randomly spawned, which I personally prefer, so you can make progress across each map piece by piece.

Get some!

Get some!

Any dungeon crawler that is going to pit you against hordes of enemies had better have a good battle system, and thankfully this is another area where Wizardry shines. In fact, I would argue that this is one of the best turn based systems I have ever seen. At first your party of up to six members is able only to perform the basics, like attacking and casting spells. But about an hour into the game, the second layer of the system is introduced, something called Allied Actions. Basically, these are team attacks that can work between two or more members to counter spells or melee attacks, do pincer attacks or even just all out rush the enemy. Each enemy encounter creates a unique set up where you must decide which Allied Actions you want to use to successfully take down the enemy while also mitigating damage. Battles are quick and fluid, but also require thoughtful strategy and attention. New Allied Actions are learned as you develop higher levels of trust with your teammates. Trust is built by fighting together, making appropriate choices during conversations, and keeping your teammates from getting KO’ed too often. The feeling of building a team, developing trust, and then learning powerful Allied Actions together makes the whole system work really well, and it turns what could have just been a boring rote element of the game into it’s strongest piece.

The ninja Kyo lacks confidence, but grows into an excellent ally

The ninja Kyo lacks confidence, but grows into an excellent ally

Team members can actually be created by the player, but over time, you will discover some really strong story characters down in the lower levels of the dungeon. By finishing quests for them, you can add them to your team, and continue to develop a real powerhouse of a squad. Loot is abundant and comes in lots of different varieties. Weapon choices affect how many attacks each character can do, and where they can attack from, and there is a fun spell creation system that allows you to fully customize each character based on the job classes you choose. The class system is perhaps one area that could have used more attention, as it is basically a non-factor as you get further into the game.

Ok, time for the Rundown!

Should I play this game? If you like immersive dungeon crawlers that are aimed at a slightly more adult audience, then this might be a game you could fall in love with.

How hard is Wizardry TOTFL? I was actually surprised at how easy I found it to be. Grindy dungeon crawlers tend to be tough, and while death does happen every once in a while, by the midpoint of the game you will be hitting the dungeons with lots of healing spells and you really won’t die too often unless you are really unlucky and get back attacked by a horde of demons.

What is the biggest weakness in this game? Story. As usual in this kind of game, there isn’t a strong narrative arc that helps move things along. Instead the story is told through the various NPC’s you meet, and while there is lots of fun dialogue, the main plot itself is pretty lackluster.

Do I need an FAQ for Wizardry? Since lots of the loot is randomly generated, an FAQ is pretty unnecessary. But you may want to read up on the classes  or spell creation to make your playthrough easier.

Here’s a video to get you pumped about Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land!

Game on friends!

Retrodragon

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Retrodragon Reviews Elder Scrolls: Oblivion

The_Elder_Scrolls_IV_Oblivion_coverI play JRPG’s. It’s my thing. Specifically on consoles, although lately I’ve been trying my hand at some PSP gaming (unsuccessfully). But every once in a while I get this weird craving to start fresh. To feel free from the trappings of the traditional JRPG gaming mold and go wherever I want, do whatever I want, and just plain wander around killing, looting and exploring.

That’s when I bust out the WRPG’s.

Specifically, over the last few weeks I have been immersed in the world of Elder Scrolls: Oblivion.

I know what you’re thinking. Dude. Skyrim? It’s like a way better version of this game? You might want to get up to speed here bro.

Well you can take your Skyrim and stick it you know where. Skyrim just makes me angry. Probably because I played on PS3 and it glitched me into insanity. Also I found the environment really boring. Snowy mountains anyone? And fighting the dragons was so annoying. “Hey dragon, want to stop flying around and come down here so I can smack you with my iron long sword? No? Oh…well then…”

Take away the improved combat, the dual wielding system, and the slightly improved leveling system (and the glitches, the boring world, and the poorly executed dragons) and you have Oblivion. A better all around game in my opinion, and the perfect place to do some wandering.

I fired up a brand new copy of Oblivion that I picked up for $8 (I’m not kidding about the price. Not the Game of the Year addition, which was intentional. I hate playing as a vampire. Google it yo) and started up the opening sequence. I created a friendly chap with scraggly hair, a five-o-clock shadow and a somewhat large nose and chose the Nord race. The irony of my choice is not lost on me, Skyrim lovers. In some small way I was hoping to rescue him from the monotony of Skyrim and send him to a brighter and more hopeful land.

I named him “Wander”.

Both as a shout out to Wander from Shadow of the Colossus, as well as because that was entirely what I wanted to do: Wander.

Wander anyone?

Wander anyone?

The world of Oblivion is awesome. It’s based around the central Imperial City, which has several large fully realized cities all around it like the hub of a wheel. In between are mountains, hills, caves, rivers and oceans, as well as ruins, mystical towers and quests.

The one thing that Bethesda has done well with the Elder Scrolls games is provide an open experience. Because the enemies level with you, there is no “right path.” I started out by connecting with the thieves guild and making some cash, then I went out and looted some caves looking for better equipment. After gearing up a little bit I started really wandering the cities, meeting people, gaining quests and doing obnoxious stuff like picking pockets and freeing people from jail.

One night, I crashed in an odd Inn over in one of the poorer districts of the Imperial City. I was amused that this Inn was actually a boat, so I went in and grabbed a room. When I woke up, I had apparently been bitten by a vampire in my sleep (CRAPPOLA! I hate playing as a vampire. I like the sun!), and not only that, our boat/Inn had been taken captive by some thieves and sailed out into the middle of the ocean. I proceeded to take my recently acquired vamp anger out on the thieves and beat them into submission, reclaiming the Inn and feeling somewhat swashbuckling in the process.

In a nutshell, that experience is the key to why I love this game. The unexpected, both good and bad. I thought instead of a formal review, I would simply share a few of the things I have been thinking about as I played Oblivion. They might be some good reasons for you to play a western game if you haven’t in a while.

Eat flame imp!

Eat flame imp!

1. You play the game, rather than having the game play you. I think one of the most eggregious offenders of this is Final Fantasy XIII, a  game I am a pretty huge fan of actually. But still, basically everyone plays FFXIII the same way. The options are only the feeling of options, not actual different ways of playing. At the end of the day, almost everyone plays FFXIII the same. This makes it almost more like an interactive movie than a GAME in it’s truest sense. Doesn’t mean I don’t love it, but let’s be honest. When I talk to people about their Oblivion character, the difference is amazing. They found quests I didn’t even know about, and solved the same quests as me differently, or in different order, or were rewarded differently for them. No two games end up the same, and this amazing variety is what provides the quality.

2. Wander. Seriously. Don’t choose a quest line at all. Just wander. I found this to be such a relaxing way to play Oblivion. Instead of grinding through quests, I simply took my time, enjoyed the sights and wandered around aimlessly. I discovered beautiful ruins, waterfalls, strange creatures, bandits, and sadly, the edges of the map. But it was so fun and relaxing. I’m always that gamer who is trying to do everything in a game perfectly. But in Oblivion, I just plain sat back and enjoyed myself.

3. True Role Playing. If you really think about it, this is probably the closest thing you can get to taking the pen and paper role playing experience out of the basement, and into your living room television. You completely set up your character, and then are thrust into the world with complete freedom to make whatever choices you would like. You can choose how to approach the game, and in fact one of the best elements of it, is recreating multiple characters to see what play style you like. (The side note to the broad options available is the fact that any play style can be a successful one, as opposed to some games where a particular play style is favored.)

The Dark Brotherhood is seriously evil...but also surprisingly fun

The Dark Brotherhood is seriously evil…but also surprisingly fun

I could go on and on pushing different reasons why this is a blast to play, but honestly since the game is so cheap at this point, there’s really almost no reason not to give it a try if you’re one of the few people out there that hasn’t already jumped into an Elder Scrolls game.

Let’s do a rundown!

What is your favorite class to play? I always play a really well rounded character because I want to be able to kick butt in any of the guilds. So in general I look like a really sneaky sword wielding battle mage…that’s really good at stealing stuff. Did I mention that I love this game?

Do you really think Oblivion is better than Skyrim? Personally I do. I actually like Skyrim even though I was hating on it in this post, but I feel like it has some serious faults that tend to get overlooked because of words like “epic” and “graphics” and “dragons.” Bottom line? They’re both good games, but I have this weird fondness for Oblivion.

Do I need an FAQ for this game? Meh. Not really. You can easily kill this game, discover great quests and become a monster without any help from the online community. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t check in once in a while to find a specific item I needed for a quest (in particular the vampire cure quest which I loathe).

How hard is Oblivion? You can adjust the difficulty so it can be either impossible or boringly easy. I will tell you though, if you’re not careful about what skills you level, at the normal difficulty, you will be getting your butt kicked by level 5.

What is going on with the leveling system!? You will probably want to read a FAQ about how the leveling system works, because it can be a bit confusing. Basically, you choose major and minor skills, and which you choose, and how often you use them, will gain you class levels accordingly. The problem is that if you choose the wrong major skills (ones that level too quickly) then you will gain class levels without the stat growth that you will need from your minor skills, and by higher levels you will be struggling. My hack job description doesn’ t do justice. Check out the leveling FAQ on GameFAQs.

What other WRPG’s do you recommend? Ok, some of these are technically not made in the US, (Dragon’s Dogma) but here is my list of what I would call the great WRPG’s on the current gen consoles: Dragon Age: Origins; Oblivion; Skyrim;  Dragon’s Dogma; Fallout 3/New Vegas; Two Worlds II (its kind of bad but occasionally good lol). Note that I’m talking console only, not PC so some of you probably have a much larger list.

Ok here is a trailer of Oblivion to get you pumped to go buy your ten dollar copy and join the Dark Brotherhood!

– Retrodragon

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Retro Review: .hack // INFECTION

I like this cover art

I like this cover art

In the early 2000’s, a very unique game series came out that began to do something previously unheard of: create a series of rpg’s with direct sequels. .hack//INFECTION was the first game in the .hack series (pronounced “dot hack”), which is a four part sequential game series that all star the main protagonist Kite, and tell the story of his interaction with an online MMO called “The World.” The games are unique in the following ways:

1. They are structured in such a way that you get to play four different games, but they are all basically the same story arc. You import your save file each time you load up a new game. I am just finishing up INFECTION so I will have more details on how well the sequels/save file transfer systems work in the future.

2. An anime was written and produced to coincide with the game itself, and was released as side content with each game package. Some people even argue that the anime is actually better than the game’s plot. I personally disagree, but it’s still a pretty novel idea to mix and match media forms.

"Inception" didn't have this many layers of reality

“Inception” didn’t have this many layers of reality

3. The game content was created as a “pretend” MMO”, meaning that the game was actually a game within a game, creating three different levels of reality for the player to interact with (actual reality, the fictional characters’ reality, and the fictional characters’ virutal reality experience in “The World”…confused yet?) I really enjoy this kind of thing.

All of these reasons made me incredibly interested in the .hack games. So when I saw that the original .hack // INFECTION was on sale at a local retailer for a relatively cheap price, I picked it up. The PS2 package opened to reveal both discs: the game itself and the side content anime .hack // SIGN. Sweet!

The first thing you should know about the .hack games, is that they get more expensive as you go along. You can pick up the first title for around $15, but the second game is about double that, and third and fourth sequels are even more costly. So be aware that purchasing the entire series will probably cost more than you really intended: approximately over $100. Value wise, this may seem like a good deal or bad, once you hear a few more details.

Each game is short. INFECTION is only about 15 hours long, unless you really spend lots of pointless time grinding (which is both boring and unnecessary). So you will kill each game in practically no time at all. So what in the world would cause you to want to dig into this overly priced, odd MMO fake-out series, that provides weird anime side content?

Because the story is really really good.

Kite spreads Virus's around like a G

Kite spreads Virus’s around like a G

The game starts out in the real world. Your character is invited by his friend to join him in his favorite online MMO: The World. So the two of you join up together in The World, and you meet up to discover he is a lvl 50 beast named Orca, and you are a lvl 1 chump named Kite. Boo! Not long into the game, you discover that some sort of virus in the games code is killing people. No, not avatars…the ACTUAL people. Or at least the fictional actual people. You’ll figure it out. In any case, your best friend Orca is in a coma, and unless you can somehow manage to delve deeper into the many layers of code in The World, you may never figure out how to save him.

So Kite becomes, for all intents and purposes, a “hacker” in the game, who uses a special bracelet to transform enemies into virus codes, that can be used to hack into levels the game doesn’t want it’s players to get into. Describing it is actually more complicated than just playing it. A few hours in, and you will be hacking worlds like a champ.

The rhythm of the game is pretty simple. Check your email, check the discussion boards in The World, and then use the access codes to enter specific dungeons that will move the plot along. In the meantime you will be meeting lots of great characters, upgrading your equipment, and interacting with strangers trying to trade them for their goodies. Its a pretty simple but well rounded system that actually feels pretty well realized at times. While you will certainly never be convinced that you are playing an online MMO, the vibe is simple and friendly, if a bit on the stale side. My biggest issue with The World is simply it’s lack of any purposeful interaction. NPC’s don’t really have anything to say, and while there are a few sidequests, its pretty empty. Thankfully, the recruitable characters keep things fresh with optional sidequests along the way, as well as email exchanges that bring the character development to life in a unique way. (Granted a two word email about your opinions on apple pie is a pretty low end kind of character interaction…I digress.)

Probably should cast a healing spell right about now...

Where’s the Phoenix Down?! Oh wait…wrong game

The battle system is both incredibly simple and complex. You encounter enemy zones in dungeons and in area maps, and then engage them in an interesting combination of action and menu based combat. What this ultimately looks like is you hammering on the X button to attack, until you need to command your team to heal, use skills or magic, or open up your own skill page. At times the battle system bored me. And at other times I found it fascinating and filled with strategy as I was forced to used both buffs and debuffs, as well as specific elemental magic. Aside from issuing general commands to your team, they operate on a pretty decent AI. As far as difficulty is concerned, if you are even close to the level of the zone you are in, and have been keeping up with your equipment you will probably find it a bit too easy. After you become comfortable with the system however, you will find it much more interesting to push for higher level areas to enjoy the challenge and experience.

.Hack // INFECTION is a short and simple game, so there’s not too much more to say. Combat is pretty good, the story is unique and interesting, and the characters are diverse and enjoyable. I’m almost at the end of the first game, and already looking forward to part 2. It may not be for everyone, but it’s a solid title that still entertains if you’re in the mood for an old ps2 jrpg.

Time for the Rundown!!!

What is your favorite thing about .hack // INFECTION? That’s easy: the plot. Anytime I started feeling bored with the battle system, I just made sure to hit a story dungeon as soon as I could, and it kept the game fresh.

Does the anime include the same characters and story? Well, sort  of. The anime tells a story that happens simultaneously as the game, and it fleshes out some of the games plot points. Sign uses different characters however. It’s generally recommended that you watch the anime after you finish the game, as a kind of reward for completion maybe?

How hard is this game? Easy cheesy. Unless you take low level characters to a high level zone, in which case they will keep dying. But it’s still not really hard, it’s just annoying in those cases.

How long is .hack // INFECTION? Figure 15 hours if you play at a reasonable pace, without really much grinding. And like I said previously, grinding is really pointless. (It will also make the later games kind of boring if you are over-leveled or so I hear.)

Should I use an FAQ for .hack? Nah. Just make sure to check your in-game email and the message boards anytime you feel lost and they will set you straight. If you need to find a specific item or something you could reference a guide, and I think there are a few hidden bosses to hunt down (don’t quote me on this, like I said I’m actually not quite finished with the game yet).

Should I play this game? Yeah! At least try out the first installation. It has some flaws, but the .hack games seem to have enough unique elements that playing it feels really fresh and fun. Just don’t drag it out. It’s not only totally unnecessary but it will kill your .hack buzz. Only reason to avoid it might be the high cost for completing the series; for me it’s worth it so far. (For the reader’s information, I currently own INFECTION and MUTATION, but still have yet to purchase parts 3 and 4.)

Thanks for tuning in! Here’s a final video to get you pumped up about .hack!


Retrodragon

6 Comments

My Perfect RPG

I’ve been cruising through my backlog lately, and between grinding levels in Persona 2, trying to maximize my additions in Legend of Dragoon, starting a speed run in FFVII, and attempting to get to level 100 on Disc 2 in FFVIII, I have to say that I am in desperate need of a new, fresh game.

Instead I keep going back to replay my retro titles over and over again in new ways, trying to discover things I never knew about them, or new ways to play. Needless to say, in the process of repeatedly destroying some of my favorite games, I started thinking about all the various pieces that make a game really work for me: battle systems, skill point allocation, story arcs, characters, music and all the intangibles.

So I decided to compile the ultimate RPG by putting together the “best” of each of my favorite games to see what it would look like. So without further ado, I give you…

Retrodragon’s Perfect RPG!!!

Visuals/Graphics

As a retro gamer, the visuals tend to be of lesser importance when it comes to what makes a game really click . But still, I do have my preferences. I tend to prefer hand drawn art styles, because they bring in something really wonderful to a game. It’s the one

Still love the sprites!

Still love the sprites!

reason I can continue to play Atelier Totori long after I became annoyed with some of the game’s issues. I just plain loved the visuals. Going back to previous gen  consoles however, I can only think of a few games whose visuals really inspired me. For example, I still enjoy the anime style of Tales of Destiny II (Tales of Eternia if you will). The colors are bright and fun, and the characters look crisp. The magic and spell visuals are all done with an anime feel, and they have a certain vibrance that just keeps them easy on the eyes.

Another game that I enjoy the visuals of is Final Fantasy Tactics. For whatever reason, I never get sick of those stubby little people shaped sprites. They just work. So when it comes to character design, my Perfect RPG would have hand drawn sprites.

As far as the game world, my favorites have been Skies of Arcadia, (I mean who doesn’t love that world? So well fleshed out) as well as

Sky Pirates are always welcome

Sky Pirates are always welcome

Final Fantasy XII. The world of Final Fantasy XII had such diverse areas, that it was just a joy to be in. Bright colors, lots of enemies, and always something new to see. I spent more hours than I want to admit in FFXII, so I must have really loved it!

Ultimately then, the visuals for my Perfect RPG would have sprite based hand drawn characters, in a vast colorful world that apparently includes sky travel of some kind. And probably sky pirates.

Battle System

The one thing I can’t stand in a battle system is drab turn based battles that are either too easy, or don’t provide enough options to really strategize. It’s the only downside to the traditional FF games (at times). The battle system, although often enjoyable,

Hit the red part for a critical!!!

Hit the red part for a critical!!!

feels limited. FFX and FFXII are probably the two best variations in my opinion (not counting FFXIII because it’s next gen). They both offered lots of customization options in the way you level and strategize. But my favorite battle system actually comes from my all time favorite RPG: Shadow Hearts: Covenant. The judgement ring and the combo system make for tense battles that keep you on the edge of your toes. You have to pay attention or you just can’t win. I love a challenge. The other battle system that I really love is the additions from Legend of Dragoon. Yeah, I know people have issues with Dragoon, but it’s a personal favorite of mine. You can see the point here though. I love battle systems that use timed button presses to keep the turn based system interesting. FFVIII did this with Squalls gunblade, and even Breath of Fire IV did it with the Super Combo skill. In the end, I just want to feel like I’m doing more than selecting from a menu. I want to interact with the fierceness of the battle on a deeper level.

So for the battle system the Perfect RPG would be a hybrid of turn based battles with an engaging timed button press system.

Story

It’s hard to judge this based on a bunch of games, but I will explain the feel I enjoy the most out of a story: personal and dark. I know

Persona games are dark but that's kinda why I love em

Persona games are dark but that’s kinda why I love em

that based on my love for hand drawn sprites you would assume that I like fun care-free stories, but I actually prefer the opposite. I like dark, moody almost horroresque stories. The Shadow Hearts series present this at times, as did the prequel game Koudelka. But for most rpg’s it’s a pretty rare thing. The reason I enjoy the Persona games as much as I do is all about the dark places they take their stories. I like to see storylines that discuss death, suicide and the paranormal. Creepy of me right? But ultimately, it is those stories that make me think about my own life and open up new thoughts for how to view the world around me. Yes, I like the playful storylines of a Hyperdimension game, but come on, only the dark games that deal with real issues will make you think. The other element that the Perfect RPG would have in it’s storytelling would be a good sense of humor. (Actually the horror/humor combo is very successful in both the persona games and the Shadow Hearts games).

So the story would have to be just a little bit on the dark side, and deal with real life emotions. Then temper the dark parts out with some good old fashioned humor. Perfecto.

Cast

The Perfect RPG cast is hard to really nail down. But I always enjoy a game that provides lots of strong support to the main protagonist.  Yes I need a strong hero or heroine, but they need to be surrounded by a team that keeps the battles and story interesting. I love the cast in the first two Shadow Hearts games, but the third was a different story. FFVI easily has the best cast of any Final Fantasy, although Lightning might be my favorite overall FF character. Some of the Tales games have had great cast’s, I’m thinking of Abyss and

Also known as End of Eternity. This is a fantastic game!

Also known as End of Eternity. This is a fantastic game!

Symphonia in this case. You might think I would go for the cast of a Xenosaga game, but for all the time they spent fleshing the characters out, I never thought they were a Perfect RPG cast at all. If you’ve ever played Resonance of Fate (a somewhat obscure PS3 title) you would see a perfect trio in action. They blend nicely, get along well, and all three feel vital to the games plot.

I guess then the Perfect RPG cast would be quirky, unique, and provide color to go alongside one or two really excellent lead characters, such as Yuri and Tidus (yeah I know people hate his voice). One necessary element though: one side character must be a ninja assassin. I know it’s weird, just go with it.

Music

This is easy. My two favorite soundtracks are both Square games: Chrono Cross and Final Fantasy VIII. Granted the two of them don’t mix very well. Ok, fine. So based on the dark feel the game would need to have, I think FFVIII’s style of music would be more fitting. But I would love some dreary piano pieces like they used in Eternal Sonata. I loved the way that game integrated Chopin’s great music into the very storytelling. Pretty cool. My game could have some “Raindrops” type songs in it for sure.

Well, if you were to put all those elements together, you would either get a totally crap game, or you would just discover it was a copy of Shadow Hearts: Covenant with weird sprite characters. In any case, you probably wouldn’t play it very long. Maybe this is why I play games instead of create them?

Hope you enjoyed these thoughts on my ultimate game! Feel free to share your own!

Retrodragon