The Jade Cocoon Project

Recently, I reviewed Jade Cocoon. There, I mentioned that Naali_314, of GameFAQs, was a great help to me. When I suggested Naali might have some unique insights as perhaps the only person to go through 1000 levels of the post-game dungeon, he suggested it would be more efficient to link to a wiki he’s been working on. Fair enough.

The Wiki gets into a lot of technical details about the game, and has a catalog of some interesting art. It is apparently still in development, but I’m hoping it becomes a repository of information that just isn’t anywhere else. Sadly, the Jade Cocoon FAQs are sometimes sparse on important details about the game, and there doesn’t appear to be any academic research on the game’s development cycle. Maybe we’ll get something with this project.


The Frustration that is SaGa Frontier 2

SaGa Frontier 2 is one of those games that this blog was designed for. For those who don’t know, I started blogging about a decade ago on GameFAQs itself, before I knew about blogs (and possibly before blogs were a big thing, but I digress). At the time, I had about five dozen video games that I owned, but had never beaten (or, sometimes, never played). I would easily get distracted and go onto a new game.

That changed when I set down my blog and started to post about the games that I was playing, looking for community help when I got stuck, and just enjoying talking about the game as I was going through it. I started with Lufia III, which is a mediocre game, and I’ve played a variety of games since then.

So, SaGa Frontier 2. You know, I played its prequel some years ago, and that was a bitch without the community. The problem is that effectiveness in combat relies upon learning new attacks during combat, by using other attacks, and finding combinations that make two or more attacks go off simultaneously. If you don’t know which attack will “spark” which attack, or which techniques will combo, you could quickly find yourself behind the game’s power curve, and at least one quest is practically impossible to beat without knowing four- or five-person combos.

SF 2 takes that issue and amplifies it, and tosses in a bunch of others. Now, I’m not one to complain about combat complexity; in fact, I think it’s sorely lacking in a lot of RPGs. However, I will complain about clarity. SF2 dumps a lot of information and options on the player from the get-go with no explanation, and it is overwhelming. It is easy to give your party a bad setup, choose bad tactics, and even set yourself up for long-term frustrations. Because of that, I spent an inordinate amount of time pausing the game to ask the forums to explain to me every little detail about how the game works. And it’s brilliant – just, really, they didn’t need to hide the ball.

So I got frustrated. But I must continue. It’s a great game. I just need to work through these horrid growing pains.

Still Playing Games Chronologically

As you might recall, some time ago I mentioned that I am playing through video game RPGs chronologically. I’m still at it. I had a rough go of it over the past few months, as I was preparing for the bar exam, but now I can get back into the swing of things. I’m currently sitting around the year 2000, and switching between SaGa Frontier 2 and System Shock 2. I have some games on the backburner from earlier years that I still need to get to, such as Parasite Eve. Some games I’m holding off on, in hopes that another version will be released before I cannot stand to hold out any longer: Tales of Phantasia, for example. I’m upset that the latest PSP version never got released in America. Tsk.

I’ve tried a lot of video games, many of which were terrible. I’m thinking of someday making a post that gives a quickie review of several dozen games.

I Have A Sudden Urge to Play Fallout 3: the Fallout 1 Review

Have you ever played a game, and suddenly wanted to play a different game, because of the first game? That’s exactly what happened to me when I sat down with Fallout 1. You need to understand that I played, and beat, Fallout 3 before touching Fallout 1. I can’t play this game without thinking about how much fun its distant sequel is.

I’ve asked a friend of mine why people think Fallout 3 isn’t a true successor to Fallout 1, and the answer apparently comes down to the tactical map used for combat. That’s fair, from one perspective, but I feel like the essence of the gameplay is basically the same. I mean, I really just see Fallout 3 as a first person, three-dimensional, version of the series. Same humor. Same universe. Same atmosphere. Same themes. Same gameplay (except, arguably, the combat).

I’m harping on this because I’d come into Fallout 1 expecting it to be different. Perhaps… better? I mean, I liked 3, but I was given some high expectations for this game that it didn’t meet. It’s kind of short and not so open-world as the game map makes it appear to be. It’s occasionally obtuse in the worst ways. There’s a nasty couple bugs that even the modding community hasn’t fixed in over a decade. I really hope I’m not surprising anybody when I point out the game has flaws, but I feel like it needs be said. It’s a good game, but I feel like 3 improved upon the formula.

As for the game itself, well, it’s Fallout. I think I ought to have a general “Fallout universe” review some time, because I don’t want to go through five reviews repeating how awesome power armor is or how horrifying super mutants are.

For now I’ll say that in spite of its flaws, it’s a good game. If you’re looking for a solid RPG, give it a go, especially if you like Fallout 3. It’s good to know your roots.

Unraveling the Jade Cocoon

Sometimes you love a game for what it could have been, instead of what you are playing. I would not be surprised if somebody told me that Jade Cocoon hit its release deadline far too early. It’s one of those RPGs that clocks in at well under 20 hours; brevity isn’t a sin, but it’s not always a virtue.

Ironically, the game is also too long. Lemme explain.

Basically, you go through four dungeons, then repeat three of the dungeons, and then fight the final boss.

The dungeon delving is interrupted by time spent in a village, and with conversations at the end of the dungeons, which is used as an opportunity to enlighten the player about the setting. It’s fascinating stuff, but it stops almost entirely after the fourth dungeon is complete, and only kind of picks up again during the final battle. The dungeons themselves have practically no puzzles; I’ll note here that each dungeon is actually a forest, sometimes mixed with ruins. The challenge is surviving and avoiding monster battles (enemies appear on screen and collision leads to battle) and navigating the increasingly labyrinthine layouts. However, the battles have little complexity to them, and the labyrinths aren’t that difficult to memorize. The selling point of the dungeons (and the game as a whole) is how beautiful they are, even as (of the time of this writing) the PS4 is preparing to roll out. The game’s backgrounds have aged well – it’s just a shame that three of them get rehashed (with color filters) for the last half of the game, by which point the novelty has worn off. And, sadly, the character sprites and, more importantly, monster sprites have not aged nearly as well. The character portraits are still cool, and the game is almost entirely voice-acted (quality, at that), but this isn’t enough to carry the game.

So if I’m bitching about how the game basically doubles its already tiresome length, why do I think the game is too short? Because they could have filled that same time with so much more detail about the world. The setting’s mythology is fascinating, and gives the world and its characters a sense of grandeur. Also, I can’t recall the last time I played an RPG whose setting didn’t remind me of medieval fantasy or sci-fi; this one goes for a tribal forest atmosphere – points for originality. I want to know more about these people, and visit these places they’ve mentioned. I want to know more about the motivations of the characters, and spend more time learning about the people of the village, and what happened in the forests. The game tantalizes the player with snippets throughout the game, even through the ending, that suggest there is so much more going on here, and the player is left wanting. This would be okay if it was meant to be kind of mysterious, or if the story itself was solid despite all the hints of greater detail, but the game’s story is so compressed that it doesn’t work.

I can’t recommend this game to the casual gamer, but RPG fanatics should give it a try some time. The game’s setting and atmosphere have enough originality to set it apart.

My thanks to Naali_314 on the Jade Cocoon message board, who helped me figure out the game’s mechanics, and filled in some details for me.