Monday, August 12, 2013

Game Diary: Xillia Rating

It's game diary time again already! Anyways, for about a week I've had "Zone of the Enders HD Collection review" listed in the Content Coming Soon sidebar widget, but I've now decided that I'm not going to review it.  The main reason is I got bored part way through ZOE 2 and sent it back to the rental company I got it from.  I have already completed both the games in their original PS2 incarnations though, and while I enjoyed playing through them the first time back then, replaying them was actually a bit of a chore. Despite both games only taking around five hours to complete, then can still feel pretty repetitive.  I supposed if you were to play them on a higher difficulty setting where you couldn't win by simply meleeing every enemy to death then it may be a bit more enjoyable, but... meh, life's too short.

Don't get me wrong, it's not that they don't have anything to offer, and if you're a Kojima fan who for whatever reason has never played them before then I recommend checking them out.  The soundtrack for both games is amazing and the design of the orbital frames is pretty damn good also.  The Metal Gear Solid series could also learn a thing or two about pacing from this series - cut scenes do not ramble on for what seems like forever and the story moves at a decent pace.  It's a shame that the first game takes place almost entirely in the one environment - just as you feel that the game is about to get going, it ends.  The second game has a lot more variety and is just better all round - you may even start to like Leo Stenbuck! Putting him the Vic Viper complete with the Gradius music is also a very nice touch for Konami fans.

This past weekend was largely taken up by Tales of Xillia, despite my intention not to get into it until I'd finished one or two other games. I haven't even completed Tales of Graces f that came out last year yet! Oh well... It is by and large what you would expect from a Tales game - well written characters, extremely anime style graphics, and fast paced battles - but it does shake things up a little bit.  The world feels a lot more open than previous instalments, and the line between the world map and dungeons is somewhat blurred, so everything feels like one world instead of a video game with discrete sections. 

There is a nice amount of side quests to take on, both large and small, though some of these are basically simple fetch quests.  Also, I don't really like the shop expansion system where you trade in materials dropped by monsters or found in the field, as you never really know if you've got the right equipment for where you are in the game.  I haven't really found it particularly challenging so far though, so I guess I'm doing alright in that regard.  Finally, Milla is one of the most interesting characters in the series to date, being the Lord of Spirits who has taken mortal form and then been stripped of her powers.  She is very forthright and wise on certain topics, yet knows little of human customs or day to day life. As you can imagine this set up has plenty of comedic potential.

Finally, I picked up Gran Turismo and Untold Legends on the PSP for £5 - just the UMD's though. I played a little of both last night, and had a good time doing so.  As it was a launch game, I was expecting Untold Legends to be showing its age, but it has held up fairly well.  It basically follows the same hack and slash template as Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance or Champions of Norrath, so if you liked those games I would say definitely check it or its sequel out.  Gran Turismo works surprisingly well on the PSP - the graphics are more or less on par with Gran Turismo 4 on the PS2, the great handling model is still present, and there are a ton of tracks to race on.  The absence of a properly structured career mode is a bit of a shame, but if you can get past this then the game offers plenty of quality racing action on the go.

I'm hoping to get a review of Animal Crossing: New Leaf put together soon.  I've already started writing it once and have given up, as it's a surprisingly hard game to review!  My second rental game from my Boomerang free trial should also be here in a couple of days, and if their priority system does its job, it should be either Luigi's Mansion 2, Pikmin 3 or The Last of Us.  All games I have wanted to play for a while, yet haven't picked up for cash flow reasons.  I'll be back with another update once I've had a chance to play the game for a while, and I should have a review of Lunar: Silver Star Harmony in a few weeks time. I also need to bring back the Commodore Classics, PS2 Tuesdays and Random Retro Round Up series!

Friday, August 09, 2013

Golden Sun: Dark Dawn review

I have a confession to make going into this review: I never completed either of the first two games in the Golden Sun series.  I did get a fair old way into the first one - about 20 or so hours, and then as so often happened I got distracted by some other new and shiny game and it got left by the wayside.  Even though I never saw how the story played out in the end, I know enough to recognise who all the returning characters are in Dark Dawn, and it's fairly easy to piece together how things went down in the end. The Golden Sun series is not the most original of creations, after all - being made up of mostly generic parts. That's not to say that these games don't have anything of their own to offer, however...

Developer: Camelot Software Planning
Expect to pay: £6

At the opening of Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, some time has passed since the events of The Lost Age.  Isaac and the other Warriors of Vale successfully managed to activate all of the Elemental Lighthouses, restoring life to the dying land. Yet there was a side effect to this... the Golden Sun event caused catastrophic levels of destruction to the world of Weyard... many lives were lost, save for those who were directly bathed in the light, whose lives were extended way beyond their usual span.  All of the Warriors and their companion Kraden were affected.  The world was saved at great cost, and would never be the same again.

Isaac and Garret continue to investigate anomalies that are occurring throughout the world as a result of triggering the Golden Sun - dangerous Psyenergy vortexes.  They are assisted in this task by their children. One day, Garrets son Tyrell gets himself into grave danger after taking a flying contraption invented by Ivan for a joyride.  Thus the game begins with you taking control of the son of Isaac, on a quest to rescue Tyrell before he gets himself killed.  Things spin off from there and eventually a new threat to the world presents itself.  It's up to the descendants of the Warriors of Vale to set things right.

Graphics: 8 out of 10
The visuals of Golden Sun: Dark Dawn are very well done, with nice bright colours, a cool cell shaded look and some very pretty water effects.  They are held back a bit by the usual limitations of the DS system such as a relatively low polygon count which makes the characters look a little angular, but that is hard the fault of the game.  As such, this is one of the better looking titles available for the system, easily on par with something like Dragon Quest IX.

Sound and Music: 7 out of 10
Firstly, the music.  Whilst the compositions of Motoi Sakuraba are of high quality, his work can get quite repetitive.  His music is certainly quite distinctive - chances are you will be able to tell one of his pieces just from the instrumentation and motifs used - but because is also quite prolific chances are the player is already quite fatigued concerning his work.

Also, I have to say I really really hate the noise that your characters make by default while they are talking.  Although it can be turned off, you have to get through the first portion of the game before you can get into a menu and switch it off.  It's a really grating squeaky noise which becomes absolutely maddening during the short time you are forced to be exposed to it, so thank the sweet furry king of the kittens that you can disable it or I would never have got through to the end of the game.  The rest of the sound effects are competently done though really nothing special - they do their job but do not stick in the memory.

Some puzzle solving early on in the adventure.
Game Mechanics: 8 out of 10
The fundamental mechanics behind Golden Sun: Dark Dawn are well established by this point - it is your typical RPG with random encounters, an overworld map, and towns - that sort of thing.  The random encounters are at least well balanced though, and you don't really need to go out of your way in order to level grind, at least until towards the end of the story and beyond.

There are a few unique aspects to the game though.  The first is the Djinn - these little creatures are hidden around the game world, and can be obtained either by defeating them in combat (which is never particularly hard) or by solving a puzzle within the environment in order to reach them.  Once in your party you can assign these Djinn to your characters, which both boost your stats and grant you access to Psyenergy (magic).  You can also select these Djinn in combat which gives some kind of benefit to your party (such as protection against physical attacks, or preventing your enemies from using magic against you for several turns) and also changes their status to "Set".  By setting multiple Djinn of the same type, you can then use summons - extremely powerful attacks by mythical gods and monsters that come with elaborate animations.  After using a summon, the Djinn that were "Set" then go into "Standby" status for a few turns, before returning to their default "Ready" state.

The types of Djinn that you equip on each character also have an impact on your character class - though I have to admit the intricacies of this system are beyond me and I simply matched Djinn of a given element to characters of the same type (Earth, Wind, Fire or Water). My main criticism of the Djinn system is that it makes the vast majority of standard offensive magic somewhat redundant, as you can simply spam the Djinn and summons over and over again at very little cost.

The other thing that sets this game apart (although similar things have been done in Lufia and Wild Arms) are the environmental puzzles.  Some of your psyenergy can be used outside of battle in order for you to interact with certain objects strewn throughout the various dungeons.  For example you can freeze puddles of water so that they become pillars of ice, you can make vines grow so that you can climb them, or you can use a whirlwind to propel yourself across a lake on an oversized lily leaf.  These puzzles are by far the best thing about this game and the Golden Sun series overall.  A couple of the dungeons were incredibly imaginative and fun to solve, and therefore will stick in the memory for a long time to come.

Innovation and Cleverness: 6 out of 10
Golden Sun: Dark Dawn scores most of its points here because of the aforementioned clever and fun puzzle design, because it certainly isn't especially innovative.  It is at heart a very traditional Japanese console RPG, and a fine example of one.

Value and Replayability: 8 out of 10
This rating is based on a combination of how long it will take you to complete the game, whether there's any reason for you to come back to it once finished, and how cheaply you can purchase a copy of your own. Some professional gaming review sites would baulk at the idea of factoring the price of a game into a review, but we live in the real world, money is hard to come by for many of us, and price can make the difference on whether a game is a worthwhile investment or not.  As Golden Sun: Dark Dawn came out a while ago now, it won't cost you very much to pick up a copy - roughly £6 when I checked.  I bought my copy a year ago for £15, and the game is a good deal at that price, so £6 is an absolute bargain.  Upon completion of the game, there are four additional optional dungeons for you to complete.  For me, the incentive for doing so wasn't really there, as all you gain from these dungeons are additional summons.  Given the fact that you already have access to many overpowered summons in the game, and the bosses of the extra dungeons are considerably tougher to beat than actual final boss of the story, I didn't see the point.

Overall: 8 out of 10
If you are clamouring for a high quality, traditional RPG experience to play on the go, then you can do far worse than Golden Sun: Dark Dawn.  Admittedly you can also do better (I would suggest playing any of the Dragon Quest games for the DS before this - especially Dragon Quest IX), but you would be hard pushed to find a better game for less money (the best RPG's on the DS are usually at least £10, and this is steadily starting to rise as collectors snap them up and they become scarcer). For the money, you can't really go wrong this game.  One thing’s for sure, now I have finished it I do want to go back and play the first two games on the GBA that are languishing in my collection!

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Game Diary: Silly Season

I have come to the conclusion that I will not be picking up an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 when they are released later this year.  This is partly for financial reasons, as there is just no way I will have around £1000 to splurge on gaming that close to Christmas and the harsh, long month that is January.

However, I will not be too sad as I get reports from my friends who do take the plunge (probably more than a little jealous, but I'll just have to cope).  The reason is, there is an ABSOLUTELY INSANE amount of games still to play on the current platforms.  The lists below contain all the games that I want to play, from earlier this year, for the rest of the year still to come, and then a selection from my backlog.

I have a tendency to hop from game to game, sampling little bits of each but never truly settling or finishing anything.  I am trying to change that habit, as it means I never truly appreciate each game.  Things are off to a good start with the completion of Golden Sun: Dark Dawn recently, and now I am focusing on Zone of the Enders HD Collection and Lunar: Silver Star Harmony.  Luckily, neither of the two ZOE games will take that long to complete, and with my two hour daily commute, Lunar will only take a week or two as well.

I can only really afford one full price game a month right now, and the next few months are already accounted for.  For August, my game of choice is Tales of Xillia for the the PS3, which has just shipped!  I will sample it (I can't help myself), but I must finish one of the other games I'm playing first before getting properly stuck in.   Then in September, it is GTA 5 that will be taking up all my time.  This game promises to be amazing - who knows, it may even be the first GTA game that I actually complete!

October is already secured by Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, though I haven't decided which platform to buy it on just yet.  I would like to get the Wii U version, though if it is £50 and the 360 version can be had for £30, then Nintendo will lose out yet again.  In November, I think I may finally get around to buying Luigi's Mansion 2 that I've been dying to play since it came out.  December may give me an opportunity to buy several games as my dad is usually pretty generous with the financial gifts, though it's too early for me to decide what I'm going to get just yet.

All this will be supported by a subscription to Boomerang.  As LoveFilm are dropping game rentals, I have had to find somewhere new, and I'm currently in my 21 day free trial period.  So far so good, though I have only received one game thus far (the previously mentioned Zone of the Enders HD Collection).  This rental service will be off great help in playing through some of the many other games that I wish to play... check out the huge list below!

From earlier in the year:

Persona 4 Golden
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
The Last of Us
Luigi's Mansion 2
Fire Emblem Awakening
Mario & Luigi Dream Team
Call of Juarez: Gunslinger
Grid 2

Recent or coming later in 2013:

Game & Wario
Project X Zone
Dragon's Crown
Shin Megami Tensei IV
Rogue Legacy
Shadowrun Returns
Pikmin 3
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing
Tales of Xillia
Etrian Odyssey IV
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner - Soul Hackers
Rayman Legends
The Bureau: X-Com Declassified
The Wonderful 101
Beyond: Two Souls
Assassin's Creed IV
Watch Dogs
Batman: Arkham Origins
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

Old games I still want to play:
Shadow Hearts Covenant
Shadow Hearts From the New World
Wild Arms 5
Xenoblade Chronicles (need to finish it)
The Last Story
Pandora's Tower
Final Fantasy Tactics A2
The Witcher 2
Odin Sphere

+ literally dozens of others!