Party Crashing

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Old Dalan looks cool. He is easily distinguishable, as, unlike most citizens of the city, he has distinctly Indian features and a non-Western accent. Also, I think he’s the only man in the entire city with a pink cat. He knows Vaan, and is willing to help him get into the fete to go steal from the treasury. Unfortunately for Vaan, a fetch quest is in order. Go get a sunstone. The sunstone will show the way into the treasury. And you need the Crescent Stone, too. I’m not really sure why, seeing as how Kyte, Vaan’s friend, figures out how to open the passageway to the sewers that lead to the palace with the treasury; but, yes, the Crescent Stone is somehow important. Mind you, I don’t know how; it could have just been a rock that Dalan picked up one day.

By the way, Zodiac Spear: as some of you know, you need to not open certain treasure chests if you want to get it. Now, the important thing to know is that you cannot know what treasure chests you cannot open without a guide. The first one of these chests is outside Old Dalan’s house. There are about half a dozen chests scattered around Lowtown, and this might be the first you see; there is nothing special about its appearance or what’s inside of it. You just can NOT open it or you lose the opportunity to get the Zodiac Spear.

But an even better example of how screwed up this is? A bit later on, there is a room full of treasure chests. In one corner, there are two right next to each other. One of the two is safe to open. But if you open the other one, you are just screwed. You have no good reason to believe you should not open that other chest. You might think, far after the fact, that any number of these chests seem special; however, you would also reasonably think that about a number of other chests in the game. There is just no way of knowing. It is ridiculous.

By the way, strangest thing: the first time I opened the chest in the palace by accident. I reloaded the game and the chest was gone! I reloaded again and it was there once more.

Back to the Lowtown part of the game…
The people in Lowtown actually represent the majority of the city’s original population. They were forced down here when Archadia invaded two years ago. If they have money, they can afford to move back into the upper part of the city. You’d think they’d be bitter, but many of them have given up. The younger children don’t all recall actually living on the surface, and at least one of them is confused as to why the adults consider the Archadians to be enemies.

There is a cool courtyard down here; an open plaza with ivy growing on it and some cool lighting. It is surprisingly pretty in contrast with the rest of Lowtown, which still somewhat resembles the storage warehouse it once was.

The Demented Merchants are hilarious. One of them advertises his hand-crafted swords and offers to let you see them. He just won’t sell them to you. Another begins talking about his wares, but turns you away because he doesn’t sell to children [emphasis his]. You’d think he was selling liquor the way he’s talking.

I had to go to the Giza Plains (possibly a take on the Gaza Strip) to find a sunstone that the nomads there could give me. Along the way, I had to battle some hyenas. In one of the battles, these seemingly-innocent white rabbits interfered by casting CURE on one of the Hyenas.

By the way, the cactoid dance is funny. Wibble-wobble. They’re like those things from Animal Crossing. Remember Animal Crossing? Whatever happened to that series?

Fighting the Flowering Cactoid was an exercise in patience. It has a very high chance of parrying attacks, and even with Panela in my party, it took a long time to take down. This was exacerbated by the fact that, twice, it ran off to find a mob of enemies to help it, and if I didn’t catch up quickly enough, it began healing itself!

I wonder if there will be some romance between Vaan and Panela.

Oh, almost forgot to mention: in the Giza Plains, I encountered the werewolves. I really ought to listen when people warn me not to fight something. I tried attacking the werewolves; these are gigantic creatures, humanoid wolves with cleavers. And I was just plain curious. Yes, I died. Very quickly. Very painfully.

Anyway, I got the sunstone from a kid who had been sent to make them. Basically, you take a shadestone, then find the Dark Crystals, which absorb sunlight, and use the Dark Crystals to fill the shadestone with their light; tada, sunstone. As for the kid himself, he was laid up for a bit – seems he tried to tease the werewolves and nearly got himself killed.

Balthier is my favorite character. British, “Spike”-like, voice, cool outfit, lots of memorable quotes, and he uses a gun. Mm, also, he’s a sky pirate and would fit in well with Vyse and the gang. Plus he’s good-looking, but that’s just a bonus.

Okay, something I have to say about Vaan’s voice: he has the most hilarious laugh. I’m not sure how to describe it, but it sounds really fake and whiny. I’ve heard it twice so far, and all I can think is, “this is not an adventurer.”

Playing this game gives me the urge to play an MMORPG I have never played. It’s like I’m playing this game and I keep thinking, “Man, I really feel like playing FFXI.” But I have never played it – at all. I just feel like I know exactly what it would feel like; a group version of this one.

I like their explanation for guest characters. “Think of Amalia as a ‘guest’.” Heh, classy. Speaking of which, Amalia is kewl.

All flans shall now be known as “jelly tits”. Juvenile, yes, but also an accurate description. Look at them. It seriously looks like they have more breasts than a fertility goddess. That said, they’re hideous beyond compare.

When I fought the Firemane, a gigantic flaming horse… of fire…, I used the Water Mote I had been saving up on it. The results were splendid. I did over 300 points of damage. Overall, the boss was cool looking, since he occasionally burst into magnificent flames and unleashed his ultimate attack, but he wasn’t terribly difficult.

A line I like, from when the party gets captured shortly after taking down the Firemane:
Amalia: They think me a common thief.
Balthier: Better than a common assassin.

Seems Balthier has some lizard-men on his tail. What is the name of that race?

Oh, by the way, it seems that at least part of the dungeon in which they look up the party does not have a roof. Seems like a glaring oversight, though I suppose it doesn’t matter if the walls cannot be scaled.

After being stuck in this dungeon for a while, I go exploring and find myself getting into a fist fight against a bunch of these large, round-bellied creatures with sharp teeth and big muscles. I keep forgetting exactly what they’re called. Anyway, the fist fight was kind of cool. We are in a little arena and Balthier jumps in to join the fight and save Vaan from getting his ass kicked.

Also, judges are back! And much cooler than they were in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. They’re now fanatical law-enforcers; of course, they didn’t much change the design; they have these cool capes and awesome helmets. I would be intimidated if I had to confront one of these people.

Ba’Gahman, I guess, is the name of Baltheir’s enemy.

By the way, Fran’s voice… sounds suspiciously like the voice of whomever did that of the unicorn from “The Last Unicorn”. Good movie, by the way. You should see it, or better yet, read the book. Great fantasy read.

Also, Basch lives! So, it turns out that maybe he didn’t betray his kingdom. It might have been his twin brother. I don’t get how that works out…

I fought the Mimic Queen. Incredibly easy battle. It was like she was one of those queens from the Alien movie, dropping pods that ran around and… the comparison stops at the point where the mimics eat electricity (What’s with mimics and electricity in this game? Just bizarre). Anyway, easy boss fight. Not very scary. Though the Mimic Queen is kind of cool looking, what with her rainbow design.

Also, on my way back to Dalmasca, I saw a wandering lizard-man with a spear. I wonder what that is all about.

Oh, and when we get back to Dalmasca, there is this point when Vaan talks to himself. It is kind of weird because he is talking aloud. Is there any real reason for that?

One last thing: the moogling. Awesome term.

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Kingdom Fall

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Ah, the classic struggle of empire (bad) vs kingdom (good). Well, I can’t blame them for sticking with a formula.

The intro is gorgeous, more like what I would have expected from a PS3 game. It looks like they pushed the PS2’s hardware to its limits for the CGI. The in-game graphics (is there a better term for that?) are also pretty good; despite how complicated the first city is, and how many people there are on screen at once, it never suffers slow down.

My only two problems are really with some of the character designs. Although most of them are fantastic, it seems like half of the characters look sleepy-eyed, including Vaan. Look closely and you will see the bags under their eyes; it’s really weird, like they were going for some sort of facial realism, and it just didn’t work. Speaking of Vaan, he also has the weirdest abs I have ever seen on a character. Ugh. Beside that, he’s your standard pretty boy.

The eclectic mix of races, one of the hallmarks of the Ivalice setting, returns. The presence of these creatures as everyday people is part and parcel of making this game’s high fantasy setting interesting. I hope that as the game progresses, I will get to learn more about the interaction, differences and similarities between the races.

I’m happy for the voice acting. Even after playing several games in a row with VAs, I am still impressed when I hear good VAs. Guess I need to play a few more modern RPGs before it really sinks in and feels like the norm.

Also, war! This director’s classic style of story. Hold on… what IS the first director’s name? *checks Wikipedia* Yasumi Matsuno

So far, it’s a standard war story. Country A and Country B are fighting. Country C is in the middle. Country A claims Country C, and now Country C’s people are upset. And thus ensues viva la revolucion or somesuch. We’ll see how this turns out.

I am still a bit on the fence about the design of the fighter ships. There is a point when fantasy begins to resemble sci-fi so much that it lessens my enjoyment; these ships, with their sleek designs, laser/machine gun-like fire, and glowing parts bear such a strong resemblance to alien crafts that it actually kills a bit of the charm for me; well, I am sure I will get used to them.

By the way, anybody else notice how chocobos have gone from cute fluffy methods of transporation to mobile death machines? I’m not complaining; I just find it funny. Don’t mess with chocobos.

The Prince goes down from an arrow to the gorget! It’s worth mentioning just because this is one of the few times I will get the opportunity to mention the word “gorget” in a relevant context.

So, what is the state of Dalmasca, the home country of our character, at the start of the game? Screwed by Archadia (pronounced Ar-kay-dee-uh).

We meet Reks, a young soldier defending Dalmasca, as he and his compatriots are trying to get to the king to protect him from possible Archadian treachery on the day of signing a peace treaty.

They make a point about how young Reks is for a soldier, at only 17 years old. Historically speaking, however, if you were destined to become a warrior (and he is a knight), you probably trained for it since childhood. You were probably a full-fledged knight (and married) by the age of 14. Of course, this being a fantasy setting, modern age restrictions influence the sensibilities of the game world, so “He’s 17! OMG, not even 18! That’s crazy! How’d he get to be a KNIGHT that young?!” when the proper reaction would be more along the lines of, “He’s 17! How did he survive on the battlefield all these years? He even has all of his fingers and both his eyes! Truly miraculous!”

Also, Basch is awesome, as he just cuts down soldiers like they’re nothing. In fact, he does it so well that I rarely get a chance to see Reks kill anybody. Too bad he turns out to be a betraying bastard and cuts down the king, thus dooming us all to a worse fate than the original peace treaty would have had.

Also, go-go earlier game references: Tonberry, Antlion.

I have one problem with the combat system: it feels like it takes too long to take actions. I suspect this will change as I gain levels and new abilities and weapons, but for now, I want to keep just mashing the “x” button, hoping to swing faster. Of course, that just slows down combat.

Oh, also, damn this inverted camera system! I have been playing for several hours and I am still not accustomed to it. I really wish they had included the option to switch it around, like in Okami.

Anyway, Reks dies, the kingdom falls, boo-hoo, and two years later, Vaan steps into the spotlight. Vaan is Reks’ younger brother, and since the country was overrun, and his older brother slain, Vaan has joined a secret rebellion dedicated to defeating the Imperials. Kidding. He’s killing rats and running errands for the Imperial party planner. A harsh analysis, true, but his starting goals seem rather petty: he is a thief whom wants to become a sky pirate. Unfortunately, I don’t see Vyse anywhere, so I doubt it will have the same sort of awesomeness as “Skies of Arcadia”. But, really, who could be as cool a sky pirate as Vyse?

But enough bitching about Vaan’s downsides. On the plus side, he has the Steal skill, and so he’s a bit like Zidane from FFIX, which means… you know, I think I’m going to just stop talking about Vaan for now.

I’m very fond of Migelo’s voice. When he speaks, he mixes in these strange guttural noises that fill all the blank space in his speech. It’s a pretty cool way of making him stand out, even moreso than his awesome blue-and-white scale patterning.

Licensing feels a touch artificial. Do you really mean to say that I need to learn how to put on every hat in the game? “My goodness, it’s a red hat! I’d like to wear it, but should I put it on my knee or my elbow?” They could have at least come up with some BS explanation about how you need an in-game license to wear certain equipment and use certain skills, but no, you just need to get the points.

Now, the license system does act as a handicap that prevents you from spending all your money frivolously, and keeps the game’s challenge rating relatively high, at least at first. I expect this to break down somewhere around the halfway point.

Go-go Rogue Tomato! It looks like I was hunting down one of the sacks from “Little Big Planet”. Pretty cool that they made it a two part battle. If they do more of this, then they really are making good use of their real-time battle system.

What is the secret of the Libra skill?

The city feels huge. Of course, after visiting all the districts, it feels much smaller. However, you can still feel the grandeur of it, particularly with the dozens of people who populate the places you can visit. The city has a bunch of people you cannot talk to and doors you cannot open, which make the city feel larger, while not populating it with unnecessary clutter.

Also, the characters are sometimes well-spoken. The game really doesn’t talk down to you with its dialogue, which I appreciate.

Hm, though, why is there both a clan and a bounty board?

Imagine if the guards knew about whatever Vaan was going to do. I mean, right then at the start of the game. Do you suppose the villain’s minions kick themselves for not getting rid of your character when they had the opportunity way back when?

Also, it says that Migelo signed the writ that got Vaan out of the city. But I thought it was Tomaj, who had given me a writ to go bounty hunting.

The critical hit system is kinda cool. Instead of doing extra damage, you just attack several more times. At least, that’s how Vaan operates with his first weapon.

Vayne Solidor – I do believe he was the man who was present when the city was taken over. He is well-spoken, elegant, charismatic (hey, he got the entire city to think he’s on their side), and he’s a handsome guy who doesn’t look bishi. Strangely, his hair seems to shift from brown to gray from CGI to normal game animation.

I wonder who Lord Gramis is.

Defeating Thexteria was an intense experience. To get the requisite experience, I ended up traveling across most of the East and Western desert, buying some better armor, getting Cure, then engaging in an epic battle against Thexteria, three wolves, another which he summoned, and hyper Thexteria (ie. Thexteria when it began using its best attacks when it became very injured).

That considered, I wonder if I stand a chance against the third bounty. x.x

I think I will just go ahead with the main story at this point.

Pre-play Impressions: Final Fantasy XII

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Like I have said before, I like the Final Fantasy series. Sure, it isn’t hardcore gaming, but not everything must be. The music is generally fantastic, the characters are at least passably interesting, and the stories, while not extremely deep, do move at a good pace and are presented with an epic feel. The designers usually succeed in their attempt to appeal to a broad fan base, and as long as you don’t have a sense of gaming elitism, you should be able to at least enjoy Final Fantasy.

So, one of the things that most excites me about this game is that the original director is the guy who created the Ivalice setting. I don’t always like his games, but his setting has a lot of beauty and depth, and I expect to see that in this game. Unfortunately, the change of directors means that his full vision won’t be realized, but I’m sure the game is still good.

On that note, I have heard mixed reviews about the game. Most people like it, but a few people have talked about how absurdly easy it is, or that they just generally do not like this particular entry. Personal preference, I suppose.

By the way, I wish Japan had released the International version here. You know, the version with all the fancy new things. The version released only in Japan. I wonder if Square-Enix knows what irony is.

Well, that won’t stop me from playing the game. I have come to realize that you don’t need an updated version to enjoy the game; sure, it’s nice, and preferable, but this is still the same game. So, onward! To FFXII!

Promising – The “Riviera: the Promised Land” Review

I just finished my second playthrough of Riviera. Although the storyline was the same, and it wasn’t a NG+, I nevertheless felt like I was playing a different game. That is my testament to the depth of replayability of the game I am about to review.

If you are a perfectionist, you will love and hate this game. You have only 15 item slots, most of your equipment can break, there are many unique items, the battles have a ranking system tied to another point system which, in turn, is tied to how many of the game’s events you can see. Further complicating this, experiencing certain events excludes others, some events are hard to encounter, and you need to do some things in a specific order, time limitation, or manner, in order to get access to items which might not manifest themselves until several chapters later. Without excellent micromanaging skills and a few playthroughs under your belt (or a couple guides on your computer), you are unlikely to see even most of these; and even if you do things perfectly, there are still some scenes you could not have seen on your first playthrough. Add to this that there are a couple NG+ bonuses, and you can quickly see why this game is such a nightmare for those of us whom insist on doing everything that seems interesting. It is one of the few games that I played through twice in a row for good reason.

On that note, I strongly recommend playing through “blind” the first time. The experience of playing through again immediately afterward, doing everything better, getting more things, startlingly alters your perception of the game’s battles.

Before I jump into the battles, let’s talk about the game’s divisions. The game is only seven chapters long, each chapter consisting of eight areas and one bonus area, and each area usually divided into two to eight sub-screens. Riviera is a relatively short RPG, clocking in at no more than 40 hours. Yet, noting what I said before this, they will be a very intense 40 hours if you care anything at all about doing things well in this game.

The battle system is turn-based with a limit break system alternately referred to as “Break Out” and “Overskill”. This meter has three levels, and most weapons and items have Overskills associated with depleting a number of these levels. The most impressive of these are the Ex Skills, which completely drain the bar and shatter it (you cannot use Over Skills again until the end of the fight), resulting in an extremely powerful attack.

Enemies have a matching rage meter. When it fills beyond about half, they can use more powerful attacks. When it maxes it, they can use a Break Out move, which drains the bar, but can devastate the party.

The trick, as you might guess, is to fill your bar as quickly as possible while keeping the enemies’ low. Attacking raises both bars; enemies attacking can lower theirs but raises yours, and if enough turns go by, their bar also drops. Attacks have different numbers of hits: the more hits an attack makes (and they must connect to count), the more rapidly both bars rise. Of course, using Over Skills counts as an attack, and most of them have several hits; ergo, if you don’t finish the enemy with that Over Skill, it could come back to bite you in the form of the angered enemy’s Break Out. And if he has friends, you are still in trouble, as they all share the same rage meter (just like your party members share their bar), and when one of them dies, the rest of them get enraged, causing the bar to sharply rise.

Combat is further complicated by its use of elemental and physical/magic resistance. There are six “elements”: physical, fire, ice, lightning, holy and, used only by enemies, dark. All attacks are also labeled as either “attack” or “magic”, which corresponds to the enemy’s resistances to both. Your party members have these too, so you need to be cautious when fighting enemies who favor an element. While fully comprehending this system isn’t necessary to beating the game, you need to develop a basic comprehension if you want any hope of winning some of the game’s later fights.

Additionally, there is “avoid” and “guard”, which dodge and block attacks respectively, and certain attacks avoid one or both of those conditions. Also, an enemy might have a special keyword, such as “flying” or “dragon”. Certain attacks are significantly more or less effective against these keywords.

Mastering the system requires a painstaking attention to stat lines, great patience, and excellent micromanaging skills to keep only the best and most relevant 15 items in your inventory. This is what primarily makes the second playthrough so interesting; the reward of playing with an eye toward perfectionism is watching how your strategy so overwhelms the enemies that they fall in as few turns as possible.

I did mention this is an RPG, but it does not have a conventional leveling system. You do not get experience from monsters. Instead, characters gain experience from items. If a character has an Over Skill associated with an item, he must use that item a certain number of times in order to learn that Over Skill. When he learns the Over Skill, the character’s stats also go up. This constrains your ability to overpower the enemies, which means the game retains a sense of enforced balance. That said, if you grab every item you can find and train with all of them, your stats can rise so high that you can easily overwhelm most monsters (and even bosses, whom will feel weaker than your average monster if you do this) until the 7th chapter. I like to think of it as a reward for being meticulous, since you are unlikely to stumble onto such power on your first playthrough without constantly resetting the game.

Unfortunately, the same attention does not go into the story itself. Not to say that the story is bad, just that you will be disappointed if you were expecting something deep, fleshed-out and philosophical. The game takes place a thousand years after Ragnarok, when the gods of Valhalla and the demons of Utgard fought a cataclysmic war. The gods employed the Grim Angels, a special force of warriors, to help them win the war effort. Although the gods won the war, they were sufficiently weakened that they were forced to withdraw from the world. They set the Seven Magi as their proxies. Valhalla was safe. As for Utgard, it became a peaceful land populated by a people called Sprites.

Now, Hector, one of the Seven Magi, has determined that Riviera is going to become a threat once more. He employs two of the Grim Angels, Ein and Ledah, to go to the middle ground between Valhalla and Riviera and activate Retribution, a device which will destroy Riviera and stop the demons from arising. The game quickly goes in a different direction, and Ein finds himself defending the very land and people he was meant to destroy, questioning the Magi’s wisdom and facing off against his former compatriot.

The story that follows is cliched and hardly worth discussing at length; it has its interesting moments, but there is not much special to it. The characters are not particularly interesting, either. The only notable thing is that all the characters whom join Ein are girls. The story, therefore, has some elements most often associated with harem manga (a style of story where a male protagonist is surrounded by a supporting cast of primarily female characters), like Tenchi Muyo and Negima. That said, the game only hints at things beyond the friendship level. You have a trust/mood meter, which is a measure of how much each girl likes Ein, but this does not really affect anything except the ending.

The graphics and character art deserve separate discussions. The game has a gothic feel to most of its architecture and, at its best, has some beautiful-looking screens. Unfortunately, they have a subdued voice, and so the game feels cramped instead of panoramic.

The character art is generic and somewhat confusing. I am accustomed to reading manga and watching anime, and so I can usually tell the difference between a bishonen (feminine) male character and a girl. However, the artist doesn’t seem to have any distinguishing marks between the two sexes: I assumed that Ledah was a girl until a character mentioned he is male. Later, Malice, whom looks practically exactly like Ledah (except Malice’s uniform is a different color) shows up, and so I assumed Malice was male; guess again – this time, it’s a girl. It happens several times throughout the game, and never seems to warrant discussion. Add to that the fact that Ein, the main character, looks kind of wimpy for a “Grim Angel”, and the characters just are not that appealing.

On that note, almost all of the characters and monsters in the game are humanoid: some of them have anthropomorphic features, like wings or antlers, but rarely enough to make them seem distinctly inhuman.

The music, like the backgrounds, is subdued. It gives the entire game a slightly archaic atmosphere, even on the save screen, reinforcing the fact that the game’s setting is built on a war of a thousand years.

Make no mistake; the game is all about the combat, the micromanaging, the perfectionism. It keeps track of points earned by getting the best ranks possible, winning mini-games, and doing an overall good job in the course of the game. If you come for Riviera for the story, you are just bound to be disappointed. While an enjoyable game for perfectionists like myself, casual gamers might want to steer clear of Riviera.

All for the Want of a Spear

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I had to capture the white butterflies in a dungeon, then take them back to town. Then I had to wait another dungeon for them to find an object. Then I was supposed to take that object, with a spear, to the smithy, to get it turned into the best spear in the game after the next dungeon. Only problem is I didn’t know about the needing a spear part, so I dropped my ice javelins. I could have kept them, but I was making room for something else, the ice javelins were weak, and I hadn’t thought anything of it.

Well, it’s not like I will be unable to beat the game. It will just be slightly less awesome. I’ll have to settle for Awesome-Lite.