Crazy Things Happen (But you knew that already)

I find an elementary school. A kid asks me if I’ve played Super Mario Bros. 7.

“Don’t take me for an ordinary man. Although I am an ordinary man.” ~a townsperson

I visit the roof of the school elementary, where I see a volcano with a bunch of smoke pouring from it. Not ominous whatsoever.

I also meet Lloyd here. He’s a wimpy kid who gets picked on and likes to play with explosives. Not a good sign.

I find a hospital with a sign advertising the doctor. Whether I’m dead or alive, I should see him to keep healthy! … o.o If you talk to Old Sawbones Benny and refuse treatment from him, he tells you, fine, go ahead and die. He says he’ll call a mortician for you.

So, I go to the Sweet Little factory to get Lloyd a Bottle Rocket because Ninten’s just that kinda guy. We get the bottle rocket and Lloyd says, “Onward, to the lab!” Where he promptly blows up the lab. And we – are – outta there!

Dammit, Lloyd starts at level 1!

After getting him equipped, it was time to fight a stray dog guarding a factory. I showed it the pass I had picked up from the ground, but its wily eyes determined that the pass was expired, and thus I must be attacked!

The Duncan Factory was bland and long. Still, there were plenty of hard enemies there to keep me busy. And I got to fire a rocket at some rocks. Lloyd – he does explosions.

It’s weird that you can die from catching the cold. But you can. And there are a lot of random NPCs around whom can give it to you. It’s funny but, at the same time, it makes you not want to talk to NPCs.

Then there’s the bag lady. Hideous woman in a red dress carrying bags; random enemy!

One of the NPC townfolk gave Ninten $400 if he wouldn’t tell the police about it. Cha-ching! Kinda weird, though; why’d he just give Ninten that money? Oh, hey, I found a police officer whom was asking about him. I told him I saw the guy, but then he’s like, “Oh, he must have gotten away. Well, I’ll go check for parking violations now.”

I encounter a girl named Ana whom has psychic powers and she joins me because I have her hat. Just as her dreams saw! Excellent reason to go globetrotting.

We visited an Old Man, over 300 years old, whom has never caught a cold. After finding his dentures beneath a sign (because, well, why not put them there, right? And build a sign… because… they wanted me to find them? They had some weird sign-building OCD? It was all a test by a crazy old man?) Anyway. When you next talk to the Old Man, he gives you all the Mouthwash you can carry. I’m serious. He fills up every open character slot with Mouthwash, an item that cures the cold. Since this item is almost useless, it’s better to sell it for $85 a pop. Then you can buy more from him for just $10. So it’s an infinite money making machine if you’re willing to go through the endless purchasing process.

Then there’s Spookane (hah, you see what they did there? With the – the Spokane – and now it’s Spookane – haha… I’m sure it was hilarious in the 80’s.)

Spookane (*rolls eyes*) is notable for the many abandoned buildings and the empty streets swarming with monsters. There’s also a Starman maintaining the only hotel. He’s nice enough to let you stay there, at almost no cost, before fighting you at your full strength. So apparently the invaders aren’t that smart.

There’s a mansion filled with zombies, ghosts, madmen and possessed things like armor and dustballs that explode into fire. Let me tell you, the possessed armor is a bitch. I don’t think they playtested it very well. Lots of hit points, high damage, high initiative, magic spells, and they sometimes come in pairs. You’ll learn to run from them, of that you can be sure.

At the bottom of the mansion, you find the haunted piano. It plays one of the tune’s that Ninten needs. Sweet.

Next, a visit to the Yucca Desert. For science, or something or other.

You Thought It Was Trippy Already?

I went to the zoo to see the animals. Unfortunately, they were mad, all of them. I had to fight elephants, tigers, hyenas and even flies. The source of their madness was “Starman Jr.”, which seems to be some kind of alien in a pill-shaped container. It went down pretty quickly… by the way, I imagine it’s design process went like this: “it looks, mm, yes, like a star – a pink star. Or a small star-shaped man. Or a mutated Carls Jr. symbol. Let’s call him Starman Jr.” The power of brainstorming.

After taking out Starman Jr., the animals chilled out. I found a singing monkey and learned the game’s third melody. Again, what are these melodies for?

I return to the mayor, whom suggested I go here in the first place. He tells me I have tiger droppings on my clothes, then laughs and says he was just joking. Ass.

The secretary reveals her rumor, that a wonder girl will help me on my trip. Then I just have to guess where to go next. Let’s go east! I hear there’s graphics in that direction.

I run into a couple of policemen blocking a bridge. There is no going that way until the curfew is lifted, by order of the asshole town mayor. However, they whisper that the police up to the north east might help me out.

Also, centipedes – they stand upright and have shoes and mittens, but only on one set of legs each.

A policeman tells Ninten, “Up in a cave, there is a strange rock-like thing”. Ah yes, I’ve heard of these. They’re called… stones.

I find the cave, which features a pink stalagmite that talks to me telepathically. Eh, that was my second guess.

It calls out something in nonsense and I read a phrase from my great-grandfather’s diary. It’s something about a missing tail and a cosmic ship. I’m guessing it is a reference to comets….and then, I’m teleported into Pink Land. I don’t know what’s going on here. Except that I meet a cat that calls itself the swimming cat. It’s swimming.

In this place, I also meet the Mysterious Mimicker, whom does the exact same lines that my dad does over the telephone, including letting me save my game.

One of the people tells me that the benevolent old many by the fountain will come to my aid when it hears my soulful cry. Soulful!

Another person tells me that monsters will come for my weird clothes. Yeah, everyone here is dressed like a witch.

And then there’s a woman who tries directing me to the restroom.

A woman asks if I’m upset that misfortune seeks me out. I say Yes, and she tells me to just stay home if that’s how I feel.

Next, somebody gave me the Ocarina of Hope just because I asked for it. It plays music, but that’s it so far.

There’s somebody whom wanted me to fix her spoon because it was bent. Ninten could have just bent it back with his hands, but that’s what psychic powers are for. In reward, I got to spend the night there. Sweet.

I’m asked if I’ve ever met the man who practices philosophy. I say yes, and I’m told that he’s good at nicknaming, that he has such good taste in it… kaaaaay… *edges away*

I meet a monkey whom tells me that of course he’s a non-singing monkey. After all, normal monkeys don’t sing. I try to ask him a question, since he offered to let me ask, but he doesn’t want to answer anything. So…

Next up is a woman whom was told about somebody that nobody remembers, but she can’t remember who. Of course!

Then I met a cat who swims on the ground. It asks me to guess what’s in its hand. … >.> I- I don’t want to.

I meet the guitar-playing hermit who tells me that he’s glad the racket quieted down and is shocked when I tell him that it was he who was playing the music. Then he tells me to come back when I’m stronger. Hm, I wonder what’s up.

Ah-hah! If I press the arrow button on Psi, I can access other magic spells. There’s several menus. Excellent.

Then I came across the Raeb Yddet, a gigantic green bear-like creature, and what is it spelled backwards? Teddy Bear. Yes.

And it can summon the Sky Yddet, which does absolutely nothing but grin and bear it for a few rounds, then unleash an attack that’s guaranteed to kill me. Thank goodness death isn’t the end in this game.

Also, it turns out you can buy the best armor in the game here. Amazing; I’m what, 2 hours in? And I really can afford it, too. Granted, I’ll have to buy more when I get more party members, but I’ll be getting more gold then. Methinks this is a short game.

After equipping the gold ring, my defense jumped from 30 to 58. You know, I heard they didn’t do any playtesting for balance by the end of the game. Now I’m really curious how much playtesting they did period.

Walking through a series of spiral pillars, I come across three people in red robes. The one in the middle says she’ll let me pass if I can solve her riddle. Then she neglects to tell me the riddle. So I use telepathy to read her mind and get the answer, and she says, “Yes, that’s correct… though I haven’t come up with the riddle part itself yet” and I get to pass.

I go to Queen Mary’s castle, which is guarded by a bunch of guys whom look like skeletons. One of them tells me that I don’t belong here, but that they all love me, and they all know my name. <.< Right, then.

Ahh… The queen cannot sing a certain melody, and to learn it, I need to learn the eight songs throughout the world. I see, I see. Clever.

She tells me I can take as much as I want of everything. I'm starting to wonder whether this place is actually inside Ninten's mind.

Then I got to open a bunch of presents in various rooms. One of the rooms had six presents, but I could only take one. I took the boomerang, which gave me a massive 20 point boost to my offensive power.

And the weirdest enemy yet award goes to~ "Dad's Eyes"! Yes, dad's eyes, a gigantic pair of eyes, appears, and you have to fight them in a random battle.

Oh, and it gets weirder. Dad's Eyes can come with a couple allies: Mom's Eyes and Watcher. I don't even want to guess what the Watcher is.

You can also run into Groucho. If you don't attack him (He's, yeah, a pair of eyes with a Groucho Marx nose deal), he says "Hello," then walks away and you get a bunch of experience without really knowing why. Awesome.

And there's four eyes, which is a pair of four eyes… you- you know what? I'm going to just stop talking about the endless array of eye enemies.

I found a sleeping dragon whom I cannot awaken. And a boss – The Fish! Whom is, yes, a gigantic fish. Hell yeah!

The fish was a fish, and that's all there really is to it. We fought, I raised my defenses, lowered his, and killed him. That's the story.

I checked a present box and found a sword. Sword? What am I supposed to do with that? I can't equip it. Fah!

After that, I found the forgotten man. He insisted that he was forgotten and that he couldn't even think of himself as existing. He asked me to ignore him, and it turns out that is the right answer. It makes him disappear, so he stops blocking a doorway. Sad, but it’s the only way through. And now I’m back in my regular world.


Decide which game I play next. Vote on the poll on the right sidebar.

A Bizzare Menagerie

I encountered a group of hyenas. I thought I was going to die, but they just ran away. Go me!

Then I had to knock some sense into a random Wally. Wally is a stereotypical hick farmer, complete with blue suspenders and a pitchfork. That’s all you need to know about Wally.

By the way, I think the Crows wear red slippers.

I defeated a Stray Dog. My reward was a Flea Bag. I’m not sure what to do with it. *Checks its description* Okay, so, it’s literally a bag o’ fleas. I can throw it on enemies. This should be hilarious. It’s happening to the next Hippie I find.

Meh, I decided to try it out on a new enemy: the ghost. The ghost is pink and looks something like one of the ghosts from Pac-Man, but with arms and a creepy face.

Also, I apparently picked up a psi power in battle without gaining a level. But I’m not sure what actually happened.

I encountered a pair of bats. I expected that this was going to be it – a real solid challenge that wouldn’t also kill me outright. However, it turns out that the bats, which come in groups as large as four, spend half of the battle in a state of confusion, attacking each other as much as they attack you.

By the way, it’s a good thing the enemies are so funny: the battles are about as simple as they get. You have the attack command, some healing magic, and that’s all for now. You fight on a black background and there’s no movement other than some screen shaking.

Of course, it also wins nostalgia points. The “Oh, I remember when things were this simple!” feeling. Thank goodness we don’t actually make games with combat like this any longer (except for Dragon Quest, but we always make an exception for Dragon Quest).

By the way, Pseudozombies are freakin’ ugly. Pugnacious, with deep set glimmers of red for eyes. Of course, a game like this can’t stand for just one kind of zombie. There’s also the Gang Zombie, which looks like a zombie mobster.

I love a game where you randomly fight a horde of zombies just because.

So, I’m checking these caskets I find in the graveyard. All of them are shaking. The first two, pseudozombies. The third: hey, it’s a girl. It turns out this Pippi, whom is not a dog as I had assumed. Also, she has red hair in pigtails. Pippi – Are they seriously making a Pippi Longstocking joke?

By the way, she starts at level 1. I guessed as much… well, okay, I hoped she would have started at a higher level. But since she’s not one of the characters I named, I assume she’s a temporary character. That’s kind of a surprise, actually; a bit more sophisticated than I expected from an old NES game.

I really like the game’s battle music. It’s really jazzy: it sounds like I’m fighting in a casino.

Hm…

what the-? Okay, randomly, Ninten’s dad called in asking if I wanted to rest. Of course I don’t! I’m nowhere near a save point. Why would he ask me that? Also, what did he call me on? They didn’t have cell phones in this era. At least, not convenient portable ones.

I ought to mention, speaking of music, the Hippie has his own music. And all of the game’s music so far is pretty good.

The Crow is Mocking Me!

I leave the house with my great-grandfather’s diary in hand. It has some cryptic notes in it, which I imagine will make sense later.

Along the road, I run into a random encounter with a crow. It’s particularly hard to kill and it laughs at me. After that battle, I learned that the plastic bat is, indeed, a baseball bat, not a flying bat. Excellent.

Don’t you love it when people say random things? I make it to the town of Podunk cuz, I dunno, this is where the adventure is headed, I guess. And somebody there says, “Somebody must be controlling the dead”. Well… okay then. I’ll watch out for that.

One of the people tells me to be honest as to whether or not I’m a zombie. Apparently zombies are really good at disguising themselves. “Braaaaaaains… I mean… Hello, Miss Jooooohnsooooon…”

I found the department store, where they sell an assortment of goods, none of which I can afford. But one day, one day I will get the $500 together to buy a wooden baseball bat. (Methinks they overcharge people in Podunk)

I get to the top of the department store, to a shop that sells pets. The man there asks whether I want to buy the last remaining pet, a canary chick. For $85. I tell him no. After all, I’m strapped for cash. Then he asks, “Well, what about if I gave it to you for free? Then would you take it? Take it!” and he shoves it on me. Awesome. Free canary.

I enter the town hall to speak to the mayor. Some woman along the road wanted me to find her pet, and thought the mayor of Podunk could help. I don’t know why she thinks this, but here we are. The woman at the receptionist desk tells me that she’ll tell me the secret later. Boy, I can hardly wait. You know, cuz the secret. It’s that thing, with the not-knowing and the mystery.

The mayor has a request. Could I please save a child from the cemetery zombies? See, the mayor’s up for re-election soon, and it would be bad for PR if a child got eaten by zombies on his watch. Anyway, how old is my character supposed to be anyway? Isn’t Ninten a kid too? Maybe he’s a teenager. It’s hard to tell with his little sprite.

By the way, Ninten is an asthmatic. A kid with asthma and a plastic baseball bat is going to save another kid from cemetery zombies. It’s like the set-up for a tragic headline story: “In today’s news, a young boy from the town of Podunk was torn apart by zombies. Sources close to the story say that he had been hired by the Podunk mayor. He fought valiantly, but apparently his asthma got to him; not to mention that the zombies apparently weren’t slowed down much by the plastic baseball bat he was carrying. Well, that’s life. Now, on to sports…”

Pseudozombie! I walked up to a townsperson and he goes, “Zombie!” and attacks me. Yeah, too strong. He killed me. Damn pseudozombies.

Along the road to the cemetery, I got into a random battle against The Hippie. It’s a man with a red beard who tries to convince me my mother is calling for me with his bullhorn. Fortunately, Ninten didn’t fall for it. I gave him a good whack with my baseball bat (seriously, I crit the guy) and he regained his senses.

With the canary chick in hand, I headed northwest to the Canary Wildlife Preserve and found the canary’s mother behind a secret passageway (who knew canaries like to hide?). For my efforts, I learned another song. What’s up with these songs?

Names and Hamburgers

The first game begins with you filling out the names of all your party members. You have no idea whom they are, and the sprites aren’t the most detailed, so you better hope the name sounds appropriate. Or you can do what I did and just name them Ninten, Lloyd, Ana and Teddy, as they’re best known.

Next, the most important question: what is your favorite food? It bothers me that I don’t know why they’re asking this. Is there going to be a quiz? If I get it wrong, do I die at some point? Can you “get wrong” what your favorite food is? I put down “hamburger”, because it’s the truth. They’re delicious. Have you ever had a $10 hamburger? Did you know they now serve them in fancy restaurants as a gourmet food? I make a point of it to always try hamburgers at restaurants that I visit for the first time.

But this is no time for a diatribe about hamburgers. This is a game – an intense game with all the glorious power of Nintendo behind it. And they need only know that I like hamburgers. Let’s see what you got, game!

We begin by learning that in the early 1900’s, a married couple disappeared. Two years later, the husband, George, returned, but his wife didn’t. He never talked about what happened, and became something of a hermit, wrapped up in his own project.

Now we skip forward and… you’re a boy in his room. You try to leave the room and the freakin’ lamp jumps after you! After punching the lamp to death, it’s up to Ninten to rescue his family from a possessed house!

So, after killing two lamps and a doll, the house stops tearing itself apart. You know, we might just want to move out of this place if everything’s going to come alive like this.

Then you get a call from your dad, tell him what’s up, and he’s like, “Oh, yeah, probably a poltergeist. Say, old great-grand-dad used to mess around with psychic power, maybe you can find something in the basement to help. And, hey, go out on an adventure.” You know, he’s surprisingly credulous considering he’s not even over here. I more expected something like, “Dammit, have you kids been getting in my stash?”

Using my awesome psychic powers, I talked with our family dog, whom just happened to have the basement key. There, I found my great grand father’s diary, a plastic bat, and bread. Um, do I have to take the bread? It’s gotta be old and moldy by now. Just sayin’.

Gah! Random encounter. How long’s it been since I played a game with those?

It’s a rat. But not just any rat. A rat with a foul mouth! After disposing of it, I left the basement. And now the journey really begins!

Pre-Play Impressions: Earthbound/Mother series

Regarded as RPG satire at its best, the Earthbound/Mother series is a classic that, ironically, few people in the West have played. Outside of the Super Smash Bros. series of games, most of the Western audience has probably never played as one of the main characters.

I enjoy a good laugh and clever design, so I’m glad to have the opportunity to play this series now. Here’s hoping it lives up to the praise lauded onto it.

Hearts’ Resolution: Kingdom Hearts 2 Review

I really enjoyed Kingdom Hearts and Chain of Memories, so it’s no surprise that I also enjoyed Kingdom Hearts II. It retains the atmosphere of the first two games, tweaks the combat of the first game, and ties up story issues introduced in the first two games (and itself).

The wonder of Kingdom Hearts is how it blends disparate worlds together in a way that’s fun, interesting and doesn’t require much suspension of disbelief. The main antagonist, Sora, is a kid whom has been separated from his friends. He seeks them out and learns that he is the destined wielder of the keyblade, a weapon which can lock or unlock any door, even the doors between worlds. Using this tool, he searches for his friends while helping King Mickey’s servants, Donald and Goofy, save the universe from the plots of dark powers.

The Disney characters play a very important part in game series. Most of the worlds and many of the characters are based on Disney movies. There’s Agrabah (Aladdin), Olympus Coliseum (Hercules) and Land of Dragons (Mulan) amongst others. They even have Pirates of the Caribbean. Of course, there are other locations, too. Touchstone Pictures’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is represented by Halloween Town, and Hollow Bastion and Twilight Town are original locations.

The cast also includes Final Fantasy characters and originals. Squall Leonheart, Cloud Strife, Sephiroth, Tifa, Yuffie, Yuna, Rikku, Paine, Setzer, Seifer (and his two buddies), Vivi, Cid and Auron all have a part to play. Most of them don’t play major roles, but they all serve to add a sense of somber realism to the setting, reminding you that the game has its serious side too (note: this does not apply to scenes involving Yuna, Rikku, and Paine, as they exist solely for comedic purposes).

I must say that the game is gloriously beautiful. The franchise worlds mirror their movie counterparts and even add original locations which would have fit just as well in the original movies. They even capture the feel of the characters: in fact, this is true for the entire cast. Nobody just stands around during a scene: they’re always animated, active, doing something. It brings the game alive. It helps that they got some excellent voice actors: the regular Disney VA cast do their own voices, the Jack Sparrow VA does a passable job imitating Johnny Depp, and the original voices are all pretty good too; except for Aeris. It sounds like the VA wasn’t given very good direction with her.

The original characters include the aforementioned Sora, along with the members of Organization XIII, and some other characters. They serve to tie everything together. Sora, as the protagonist, visits the worlds and interacts with all of the characters: he is even called the key that binds everything together. Organization XIII, as the villains, give the story impetus.

And what a story. It’s every bit of hope and wonder that Disney tries to instill with its tales of heroism and the power of the heart, of light against darkness, combined with the epic feel of a Final Fantasy game. It should feel cheesy, and I must admit, it is just a little bit silly. However, they execute it with such seriousness and with such careful attention to character personality, that you genuinely care for the characters and their struggles as Sora progresses through the game. At times, it gets a little confusing: Organization XIII’s motivations don’t sync perfectly well with their actions, and sometimes it seems that characters in-the-know are being intentionally obfuscative. But most of the games mysteries do get resolved, so you can rest assured that the designers had something in mind when they made the first game. No matter how bizarre things seem, they almost certainly do eventually make sense. Of those matters that don’t, they are explored in the other games of the series.

Combat is a blast. Kingdom Hearts II, like KH1, uses an action-RPG system. You control Sora as you move around engaging in battles in real-time throughout the dungeon. Enemies suddenly appear from the ether to attack you. Sora has a lot of options at his fingertips. His weapon, the Keyblade, is a melee weapon with which he can combo, both on ground and in the air. As he gains levels, he unlocks new abilities, which enable him to end his combos with powerful moves called Finishers, drastically increase the number of attacks in his combos, and even reduce the number so that he uses his Finishers more often. He can also learn to quickly dash along the ground, jump higher, double jump, glide through the air, block and counterattack. If he wants to avoid melee combat, Sora can surround himself with fire, zap enemies with ice or lightning, gather them together and damage them with Magnet or use Reflect to bounce their magic spells back on them. He can heal with the Cure spell or with items, and all of his magic spells and items can be hotkeyed to a shortcut menu. His bag of tricks also expands to include Drive Forms, Summons and Limits, which he can access at the cost of one or two of his AI-controlled allies (Donald and Goofy, or one of those two plus the story character of the world that Sora is in). Drive Forms give Sora a bunch of special abilities, including devastating attacks, some of which break the conventional rules of combat, like enabling him to free cast spells while moving. Summons let him invoke the power of some Disney characters, whom come to his aid bearing special abilities that, under the right circumstances, can turn a battle around instantly. Limits are special powerful attacks that Sora uses in conjunction with one or two of his allies, making Sora effectively invincible and devastating the enemies. Finally, Sora has Reaction commands, special actions he can perform in battles under certain circumstances, which let him do anything from dazing an enemy to grabbing it, activating its laser, and spinning it in a 360 degree arc to annihilate all its friends.

All of these abilities will be necessary to win battles. As much as he has, Sora will be constantly harried by a variety of dangerous and interesting foes. Even regular enemies usually have special tricks, such as teleportation, an invulnerable frontal guard, or near-immunity to knockback. Bosses are a whole magnitude more dangerous: each has a unique attack pattern, often consisting of multiple phases, and many put special conditions on the fight. Beating one boss prepares you for the next only in that you learn to expect increasingly complicated chains of attack and think more creatively. Everything you’ve learned culminates with the final boss, whom is one of the most impressive foes I have ever faced in a video game. The designers’ hearts went into making his battle as awesome as it is, and even with maxed stats, you cannot just brute force your way through the battle against him (at least, not on the hardest difficulty, which is the difficulty on which I played).

Kingdom Hearts II is a fitting end to the main story of the series. It’s passionate, with endearing characters, awesome worlds, and impressive combat. It’s a great example of how lightheartedness and seriousness can work hand in hand and how RPG combat can mesh with action elements. It’s the best of Disney, the best of Final Fantasy, and its own thing all at once: it’s Kingdom Hearts.