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 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Thu Jan 31, '13, 1:26 am 
tilinelson2 wrote:Valis is a great series (despite Valis X), and III is surely the best offer. I have a something for Cham because she reminds me of another pointy-eared girl I love so much :D

For me it's a tie between Valis 1 Genesis and Valis 4 Turbo CD. Valis 1 had the most thought put into its game design, but Valis 4 CD had a very good story and the fact that it did much more to differentiate the three characters you could play as. Wise King Asfal is pretty boss, because he's this guy who apparently knows that he lives in a platform world, so he wears this big suit of armor that makes him immune to ice physics and spikes. V4 TCD would be well and away my favorite if it didn't have the occasional chunks of seriously terrible level design.

 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Thu Jan 31, '13, 9:56 am 
I've (at last !) tried Valis III and that vis a real good game ! I need to play it more to have a better view of it :)

 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Sat Mar 2, '13, 12:28 am 
Phantasy Star
Release date: 1987 (JP), 1988 (NA)
Developers: Sega
Platform: Sega Mk III/Sega Master System

On December 20, 1987, only two days after the ailing Squaresoft released Final Fantasy, its last ditch effort to stay afloat as a company, Sega released Phantasy Star for its own home console. Phantasy Star made huge waves- among other things, it was the first electronic full RPG that had pre-defined characters that were more than either blank slates, or a collection of characters generated by the player. One of the creators of Wizardry noted that while the game was not only a shot in the arm for Sega's waning fortunes in the US, but also that the game presented a new direction for video game RPGs, not only in its defined characters but also in that it broke the genre free from the repetition of pure swords and sorcery. At a hefty 4 megabits, it represented a hardware achievement for Sega as well, but the franchise it spawned has lasted even until now.

So, here goes. Phantasy Star takes places in the Algo system, which has fallen under the control of king Reipard LaShiec. The system exists under a perpetual state of martial law, travel between the planets is strictly controlled, and anyone who shows even a hint of being subversive is arrested or even killed on the spot. the latter is the fate that befell Nero Landale, a young man working against the rule of King Lashiec- his actions against the King were discovered, and he was beaten to death in the middle of the town of Camineet on the planet Palma as an example to anyone else who would dare resist. However, what they didn't count on was the fact that Nero had a sister, Alis, who was willing to do whatever it took to kill the most powerful man in the world.

The gameplay of Phantasy Star is largely old hat to anyone who has played most retro RPGs. Travel takes place on an overworld, the party eventually has a number of characters each with their own abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Characters gain experience from defeating monsters and become stronger and gain new abilities as they level, and so on. While the game is navigated from a top-down view on the overworlds, it is navigated in first-person view in buildings and dungeons, something that would have been familiar to players of PC RPGs of the time, such as Wizardry and Might and Magic. In fact, combat itself even takes a page from Wizardry- while only one type of monster may attack at a time, a random monster encounter may involve a "stack" of opponents ranging in number from 1 to 8, depending on the type of creature and the number of characters in the player's party up to that point, and there are some attacks that a player can use that will affect multiple monsters or even the entire stack. The backgrounds are full-screen and do vary based on the environment, the former of which would not be mastered by either Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest until those tow series started having installments on the Super Nintendo. The reason for the plural of overworlds is that there are in fact three planets for the player to explore- while Motavia and Dezolis are not as packed with content as the starting planet of Palma, it was still a departure, as the only other games I know of to have multiple overworlds at the time of Phantasy Star's release were games from the Ultima series.

Of course, coming with any old school cRPG is the ugly beast that is old-school cRPG game design, and Phantasy Star is no more immune to its hooves than any other pure RPG of the period. While movement is not especially slow compared to world size, and there are some item and magic-based shortcuts available to cut down on travel times, there are a couple of other aspects that the game was not able to escape. For example, the opening parts of the game require a great deal of grinding, a process that is only hobbled further by the fact that Alis can only withstand one, maybe two encounters before she has to go back to town for rest, and said grinding isn't just for improved equipment, but also for plot-necessary items to advance the story. The encounter rates can also be dismally high in places, and once the player has become strong enough to push through such encounters with ease, they become a tedious distraction rather than a challenge. The game does proceed more smoothly after the initial grinding "hump", however, though there are still some counter-intuitive decisions in the offing- while the game stresses that the Laconian weapons are the best equipment for fighting against LaShiec, the Laser Gun is actually a far better choice for the later areas of the game- while the "Legendary" Laconian Axe has technically far higher attack power, the enemies in the later areas have such high defense that the DEF-ignoring laser gun will consistently deal more damage. Also, because of the extreme strength of the enemies in the last dungeons of the game, the best strategy for the final dungeons is to grind the necessary levels ahead of time and run from absolutely everything in those last areas, effectively turning the last leg of the game into 'Sir Robin's Great Adventure'.

Also, hope you have graph paper handy, 'cause those dungeons aren't going to map themselves.

The story of the game managed to be less minimalist than its contemporaries, and certainly far less minimalist than its predecessors in the PC, as it tended to revolve around characters. After the initial grind of the game, Phantasy Star was very open about quickly introducing concepts that would be hallmarks of the series, such as space travel and exploration on a number of different worlds. While the aliens tended to be rather one-note, actually having sci-fi elements like space travel and other forms of extra-terrestrial intelligent life incorporated fully into the overarching setting design from the ground up were relatively new to cRPGs. While not an amazingly developed story, it was certainly a novel one, and it even pulled its first twist right at the beginning by juxtaposing traditional gender character roles in such revenge stories- in a more traditional story, it would have been Alis who died to motivate Nero to seek revenge, rather than how it ended up working in the intro to Phantasy Star.

As far as the art design goes, Phantasy Star was as large in memory as a good number of the early Genesis games, and it shows. The character portraits are remarkably detailed, perhaps even more so than its successor. The backgrounds are distinct and colorful, and the very fact that monsters has a fair number of animation frames for their attacks was something almost unheard of at the time of the game's release. While this does lead to a fair bit of palette-swapping, the gain offsets the loss of monster variety. While the music is well-composed, it does suffer from the Master System's weak sound hardware. However, the game's sound was made to take advantage of the FM sound capabilities provided by the Yamaha YM2413 sound chip that existed as a plug-in upgrade for the Master System. The addition of the FM sound chip turns the soundtrack from a decent composition let down by its hardware into one of the best RPG soundtracks of the 8-bit era.

While the game does suffer from some unfortunate retro-isms, fans of older RPGs ought to seek it out. It borrows some of the better aspects of its predecessor RPGs, adds its own twists to the expected story roles, and sets it down in what was then a fairly unique setting.

Who needs screenshots? Y'all should've played this by now. :)

 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Sat Mar 2, '13, 9:38 pm 
Phantasy Star ? I don't know this game at it a good game ? :rofl:

Joke aapart, great review ! Keep up the good work :) :fiery:

 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Wed Mar 6, '13, 10:37 pm 
myau56 wrote:Phantasy Star ? I don't know this game at it a good game ? :rofl:

Joke apart, great review ! Keep up the good work :) :fiery:

I am still working on Phantasy Star II- that review will be larger than the others i have written so far, most likely, as games that are near-universally described as "classic" trip my critical trigger and make me want to dig deep into the nut and bolts of the gameplay and how it interacts with the rest.

Release Date: 1994 (US), 1995 (NA)
Developers: HAL Laboratory, APE
Platform: SNES
Conventional(ha!) RPG

Earthbound is actually the second game in the "Mother" trilogy, and the only game in the series to have an official release in the US. Mother 1 (AKA Earthbound Zero) for the NES was actually translated, but never released. Mother 3 (originally for the N64, but moved to the GBA) has had a fan translation, but nothing truly official. Earthbound was the victim of one of the worst marketing campaigns ever devised for a video game (remember the "this game stinks" ads?), and as a result recieved disappointing sales in the US. However, it made a huge splash among those who played it due to its unique sense of writing and presentation. I actually consider it tied with Phantasy Star 4 as the best RPG of the 16-bit era.

Before going into the plot of the story, it must be said up-front that Earthbound takes place in a somewhat contemporary modern-day setting- this game doesn't use the trappings of a full-fantasy game like Dragon Warrior, or even much sci-fantasy, like the Phantasy Star series. Save points are telephones, food acts as recovery items, you can use buses to get between towns, and there's only one sword in the game, and it's an optional weapon. The main plot of the game is quite simple in its conception. A little ways outside of the sleepy town of Onett in the country of Eagleland (more on that later), a meteor suddenly crash lands. This awakens a local boy named Ness, who goes out to investigate, only to be met with a psychic bee from the future. He declares that in the future, all is ruled by the power of a mighty destructive entity called Giygas, but that three and three friends he has not yet met have the power to avert the doomed fate of the world. When he is mortally wounded by a neighbor who mistook him for a dung beetle, the bee hands over the Sound Stone, with which Ness can gather strength to confront this mighty enemy from eight special points in the world. The next morning, Ness begins his journey that will take him around (and through) the world.

Now, the creator of the game, Shigesato Itoi, said that Earthbound (and the Mother series in general) was "Dragon Quest with a different name", and it's easy enough to see the similarities. There's no shared inventory, there is an action menu outside of combat, and the combat gameplay is quite similar, breaking down into Fight, Defend, PSI (magic by another name), Item, and whatever special abilities are unique to a character. The only real battle innovation, however, is the rolling HP counter- if a character takes damage, instead of all the HP being removed at once, it rolls down on the counter. If a character takes a hit that would reduce their HP to zero, but the fight ends or the character is healed before the counter reaches zero, then the character survives the battle and doesn't need to be revived. The game is fairly generous with its battle rewards, though, so it doesn't require nearly as much grinding as the Dragon Quest games or other '80s RPGs. Also, if your character is significantly stronger than the enemy or group of enemies in question, you will automatically win the battle and gain all of the rewards. Enemies don't spring out of nowhere- they are encountered wandering around in the various areas, and how you contact them affects whether you or they get a surprise round, or if you just proceed as normal- Attacking them from the back gives you an advantage, and being attacked form behind... doesn't.

The real strength of the game is in the writing, and not just for what's related to the main plot. Shigesato Itoi wrote all of the game dialogue himself, and it was for the better due to the fact that it had his single unified (and slightly unhinged) vision. It's a rather quirky game, to be sure. Eagleland itself is basically Norman Rockwell's America, and Itoi had put in numerous shout-outs to bits of western culture, most notably references to the Blues Brothers and the Beatles. Because I can't really summarize the whole thing, here a few out-of-context things the player will have to deal with on Ness's journey.

-To convince the police to take down a roadblock that's stalling your progress, you must defeat the police chief in single combat.

-An insidious, fanatic cult based around the worship of the color blue.

-A dungeon designer working with a local scientist to become a scientific marvel- Dungeon Man, part dungeon, part man.

And more of that sort of thing, really. It is one of the few games where it is worthwhile to talk to every single random NPC, just to see what ridiculous things might come out of their mouths.

While some thought has been put into the environments, we now come to the graphics- 1994 and 1995 were the years of Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger, which had some of the most lavish graphics to appear on the system- whereas Earthbound barely looks like a launch title, and isn't a huge improvement on its NES predecessor. The screenshots will show you what I mean. On the other hand, however, the music is top-notch, and is a rather high-tier soundtrack among the various SNES RPG titles. While not as orchestral or lavish as the tracks for FFVI or Chrono Trigger, there is no out-of-place music, and there are some extremely good individual pieces out of the lot.

Earthbound ended up being one of the overlooked classics of the SNES RPG era, and I would rate it as probably the best RPG for that system, on my own odd scale. While it isn't as technically ambitious as other games, it does what it does extremely well. The game flows quickly, the combats are challenging without being generally unfair, and it actually makes you want to interact with all of the NPCs due to Itoi's solo work on the whole game script.

(Ry's notes: The game actually game bundled with the strategy guide- I not only still have it, but I even know where it is. Biggest game box I ever bought. It also had a hilariously aggressive copy-protection scheme. Also, the game has some rather unconventional status ailments, like the mushroom.)









 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Thu Mar 7, '13, 3:05 pm 
Great review of PSI. As much as I love the setting, visuals, and scenario it built, I have to agree that the interface is clunky. Maybe even horrid by today's standards, in some respects. Game design has certainly improved in some areas, to be sure.

One of these days, I'm going to have to finally track down Earthbound and play it.

 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Sat Mar 9, '13, 8:27 pm 
Hoo boy.

Phantasy Star II: The End of the Lost Age
Release Date: 1989 (JP), 1990 (NA)
Developer: Sega Enterprises
Platform: Sega Genesis
Conventional RPG

In 1989, Sega released the first 16-bit console RPG, Phantasy Star II, a direct, though distant sequel to the original Phantasy Star. The game was quickly localized for an English release, being released in America months before the original Final Fantasy made it to American shores. PSII was a hardware achievement at the time, riding on a 6-megabit cartridge, and it was also the game that proved that the Genesis console was capable of delivering far more than merely arcade ports of Sega's cabinet-carried titles. The game received an astonishing amount of critical acclaim, both from magazines such as Computer Gaming World and even such far-flung sources as the mainly tabletop-centric Dragon Magazine. Even Nintendo Power has placed Phantasy Star II along with Phantasy Star IV as the greatest RPGs of all time, citing the game's rather daring story for its time.

Phantasy Star II takes place 1,000 years after the defeat of King Lashiec at the hands of Alis and her companions, and the Algo system has prospered peacefully since then. This newfound fortune is in part due to the influence of the intelligent supercomputer Mother Brain, which arrived in the system and took control of the Algo system computer networks some 600 years after Algo was freed by Alis. The computer engineered the construction of climate control systems and crop domes that made even that harsh deserts of Motavia green and comfortable for human life. However, while the people of Algo want for nothing, this has made it difficult to cope with the current crisis. Biomonster outbreaks have become so fierce and frequent that the commander of Motavia has begun to suspect that there is something wrong with Mother Brain's "perfect" system, Algo's government on Palma refuses to act, leaving him with no choice but to send a talented young agent, Rolf, on a secret mission to determine what has gone wrong in Algo. Rolf himself, however, also knows that something is awry, as for many nights he has been haunted by a strange dream of Alis doing battle with the dark force that threatened Algo 1,000 years ago. Accompanied by Nei, a vagabond half-human, half-biomonster girl he had taken into home, the pair set out to find out what new force has cast its long shadow over the Algo system.

The gameplay of Phantasy Star II, at its core, does not vary greatly from its predecessor. There are a couple of important changes, however- first and foremost, dungeons are no longer handled in the first-person, instead using the same overhead view as overland travel. The player once again commands a party of four characters, but the player can acquire eight different characters over the course of the game, which can be switched in and out of your party by returning to Rolf's house. In fact, the means by which you acquire them is different from most other RPGs- every time you visit a new town and then go back to Rolf's house, someone new will have heard of Rolf's mission and will stop by his address in Paseo to join up with Rolf's entourage. Combat is handled differently too- each character has a set order that they execute during rounds of combat, but the player can interrupt and set new orders for the party members. This sort of design could be seen as a forerunner to the pausable real-time combat used in later RPGs, such as Star Ocean, Baldur's Gate, Knights of the Old Republic, and so on. Monsters are now displayed as individuals rather than as a stack, which means multiple types of monsters my now take part in combat. The game also makes a distinction between monster and robot-type enemies, which have their own sets of vulnerabilities and immunities.

Unfortunately, the core gameplay assumption of Phantasy Star II is flawed on such a fundamental level that it actually undermines the game's more interesting aspects. While the initial grind of Phantasy Star I was lengthy to be sure, the game did proceed fairly smoothly thereafter, as there wasn't a huge amount of equipment that needed to be bought, an increased number of party members also effectively increased received rewards, and while new party members joined at level 1, the new characters had base stats at that level that still allowed them to make semi-useful contributions. However, in Phantasy Star II, an enormous amount of grinding becomes necessary at every single stage of the game from beginning to end. Even the most necessary advancements in abilities and equipment require a huge investment in time due to the low monster rewards relative to experience requirements and equipment costs, and this grind is only multiplied if you wish to actually take advantage of the customizable party. All new recruits start at the same sort of level 1 that Rolf did at the beginning of the game, and there's no experience sharing with inactive members, so to bring a new member up to speed with both stats and equipment you either need to grind them up on lower enemies first, or try to accomplish it more quickly by grinding on contemporary enemies and hope that the new guy or gal doesn't get instantly killed. And then there's also the matter of grinding out the cash so that they can have decent equipment appropriate to the point in the game where they have joined your party.

While the game's combat engine is generally sound (except for the mind-boggling decision to give all attack techniques a miss chance), the amount of grinding not only sandwiches the interesting story bits between long stretches of pure tedium, but it also sabotages the strengths of the customizable party. The main feature that a customizable party offers the player in games like Phantasy Star is that it offers the player a stable of characters with different abilities that the player can switch out depending on personal preference and/or the situation at hand- Riviera: The Promised Land makes matching the right characters to one's opponents a central conceit of its battle system, for example. However, the huge investment required to take advantage of this in Phantasy Star II means that it's a far better choice for the player who values their time to pick a single party setup and stick with it through the whole game. This is a shame, as the few boss encounters are highlights of the game, being challenging and interesting (though the second-to-last boss does veer into luck-based). Ease of play has also taken a step back from PSI, as the very friendly save-anywhere feature has been removed in favor of saving only in towns, unless the player finds an item that they would likely only come across by sheer chance, as it requires some very unlikely circumstances that wouldn't usually occur in a normal playthrough.

When people normally talk about how Phantasy Star II is one of the classic RPGs, the gameplay isn't talked about- it is the story, and rightly so, as there are lessons in storytelling that a number of other franchises that followed could have stood to learn. The game sets down its tone right from the get-go, and very quickly paints a picture of a society that cannot cope with a crisis- some of the people you encounter cling desperately to their faith in Mother Brain, others have turned to nihilistic, random violence, and Rolf's own government refuses to admit that there is anything wrong despite the enormous evidence immediately on hand. While some of the moralizing is ham-fisted (which admittedly, is a problem fairly common in science-fiction as a genre), some of the more effective bits are presented in subtle ways, such as how Mother Brain's perfect system has not only degraded humanity, but also the other races of Algo. The comfort of humans on Motavia has meant the destruction of the planet's natural environment and climate, so the remaining native Motavians are forced to live on the refuse of Palman civilization. A significant percentage of the surface of Dezolis has been dug out and turned into a huge mining complex, so the displaced Dezolisians are now living in Palman mining downs that were abandoned after an accident at the complex pumped large amounts of toxic gas and chemicals into the atmosphere. Space travel does play a far smaller role in this game than its predecessor, however- by the time you acquire space travel, there is no reason to go back to Motavia, except to switch party members.

Perhaps the thing that Squaresoft and others could have learned the most from the storytelling of Phanasy Star II is that the game maintains its relatively grim outlook without robbing the player and/or characters of their agency. Rolf and his team do generally succeed at the objectives they aim for despite the enormous odds against them, but as the game goes on the costs of victory become higher and higher without outright snatching away the party's victories from right under their noses. Perhaps the most talked about cost, however, has perhaps received a disproportionate amount of attention, as the character in question is a fairly typical sacrificial story victim- what made it shocking is that it was one of the earliest examples of such a thing happening in a video game.

The aesthetics are mixed bag. Phantasy Star II once again delivers on the fantastic monster animations, and some monsters even have alternate animations depending on which attack they're using. The same now applies to characters, as combat now takes place in the third person, so characters themselves may have multiple animations depending on the weapons they use. This does seem to have come at the expense of the previous game's lush and varied battle backgrounds, as all combats throughout the game now use the same background, a rather generic blue grid. Perhaps the only grating addition is the repeated red flash whenever a monster scores a hit, which provides nothing more than a little extra eye strain and unnecessary length to an enemy's attack. The game's environments do work to tell part of the story- in the first game, the main obstacles to navigation on Motavia were mountains and giant antlion nests, but in this game the obstacles are crop domes and the Motavian canal system. While some of the music in the game does sound entirely too cheery for a planet in immediate crisis, the music really does step it up during the game's second half.

While Phantasy Star II's story deserves all of the praise it gets and then some, there's very little to recommend playing it as an actual game. The grind is so onerous that it actually undermines the genuinely interesting aspects of play that the game sought to provide, and creates a wearying amount of distance between the beats of a well-constructed story that would be a superb to experience if the game wasn't so intent on interfering with it.


Y'all played this already, so no screens for you.

Last edited by R-90-2 on Sat Mar 9, '13, 8:27 pm, edited 4 times in total.

 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Thu Mar 14, '13, 2:20 pm 
Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom
Release Date: 1990 (JP), 1991 (NA, EU)
Developer: Sega Enterprises
Platform: Sega Genesis
Conventional RPG

Phantasy Star III was the third installment of the classic Phantasy Star series, but rather than being a direct sequel, it was more of a side-story to the previous games than one that continued the main story of the Algo system. While the game was generally well-received critically in the West, it was considered something of a disappointment compared to its predecessor, most notably because it did not resolve the cliffhanger ending of PSII (which wasn't at all a cliffhanger in the Japanese version). Even now it has been critically considered to be a lackluster installment in the series, the odd one out of the classic Phantasy Star franchise.

So, the story goes like this. 1,000 years ago, there was a massive war between the swordsman Orakio and the sorceress, Laya, that raged across many worlds. the fighting was fierce, and ruined entire civilizations, and in the end, both were killed in the fighting. The people of Landen soon forgot that there were other worlds in the wake of such devastation, but humanity lived on. In the present, Landen once again thrives, the scars of the ancient war having almost completely disappeared, and it is even a happy occasion- Prince Rhys of Landen is about to be married to Maia, a beautiful though amnesiac girl he found laying on the shores of his country. However, just as the ceremony is about to begin, a dragon crashes through the roof and snatches Maia away, shouting that Orakian scum shall never touch Maia. Rhys tries to command the army to go to war, but the king locks Rhys away in the dungeon for attempting to fight an enemy that, as far as they know, no longer exists. Rhys refuses to give up his quest, and after being freed from the dungeon by a mysterious girl, he sets out to rescue Maia- and not only starts to unravel the mysteries of landen and the other worlds, but sets in motion a series of events that cannot be resolved in the time allotted to just one man.

Phantasy Star 3's basic gameplay has undergone a couple of alterations from prior entries in the series. While the combat/equipment/dungeon cycle basically remains the same, aside from having shifted back to the first-person perspective, the technique system has changed dramatically. Characters now start with all of the techniques that they will have for the rest of the game, divided into groups of for by category (healing, attack, buffs, and two classes of buffs), and the only thing that increases is their power ratings- however, the character can now pay to shift around the assigned power of techniques within a category, allowing said character to specialize or generalize in certain techniques as the player sees fit. In combat, the player now once again has the explicit option to advance combat on a round-by-round basis. Perhaps the biggest draw, and the reason for the game's title, is the generation system- at the end of each of the first two legs of the quest, the player has to choose one of two candidates for marriage to the current party leader. The next party lead will have abilities depending on who you chose the previous lead to marry, and as there are three generations, that means that there are seven possible permutations of party leader, and four different endings. The second generation, however, is the only one that has the quest significantly altered by your choice in the first, but generational mechanics do remain rather rare in RPGs. Parties are once again fixed, but by generation, and who a character chooses to marry in previous generations does actually affect how one of the later generation characters turns out.

The core gameplay of PSIII, while it does abolish some of the retro-isms of earlier installments, is not without warts of its own. PSIII has finally increased monster rewards to a reasonable level, so while some grinding may be required in the beginning, the game plays quite smoothly almost all the way afterwards- the only especially lengthy grinding session I had to undertake was due to poor spending habits, as well as overestimating the difficulty of a dungeon based on my own memories. Characters that join at level 1 often do so at a useful level one, and it's much easier to catch up characters that don't. On the other hand, the game has made attack techniques practically useless for the player. Physical attacks, even from the 'weaker' party members, will always do more damage than attack techniques, so a character's Technique points are always better used for healing and buffs. However, this is an odd case of two wrongs making a right, as powerful attack techniques may well have made the game too easy. Another omission is that there is no longer any sort of mechanical (hurr) distinction between monster and robot enemies.

Phantasy Star III, however, does have what remains a rather unique sort of setting- normally spaceships are merely a means of travel or a single adventure site, but an entire game set on one is still quite a rarity. While technically the entire game is space travel, the niche that space travel held is replaced by travel between the various world-domes of the ship, and like in Phantasy Star I, world travel is very central to the play and resolution of the story of Phantasy Star III. The game's story does still retain a few connections to the prior entries of the series, but this does remain a side-plot to the games taking place in the Algo system. The actual story progression, however, does retain its Phantasy Star touch of allowing the player to have their victories.

The aesthetics once again are a mixed bag. The game does try to do some seriously interesting things with the music, the first of which being that he game actually has context-sensitive battle music- there are three different tracks that can switch on the fly in battle, depending on your strength, the enemy's strength, and how close either side is to losing. While the detection isn't perfect, it's still correct more often than not. The second is how the game handles the overworld music. When you start the game with your single character, the overworld music is rather sparse- but as you add more party members, more of the gaps in the tune are filled in, and so you only get the full and excellent overworld music once you have progressed far enough on a leg of the quest to obtain a full party. This game also sees the return of context-dependent battle backgrounds, but other aspects of battle have taken a serious hit. While the series from the beginning was known for its comparatively lavish multi-frame monster attack animations, this is conspicuously absent in the third installment. A return to first person means that characters no longer have unique attack animations, and the monster attacks are largely limited to single-frame "twitch" animations, and among these there are a fair number that don't even look like the monster is attacking one or more members of the party. The monster designs themselves are generally competent, however, with a few exceptions.

While the game introduces some never-before seen flaws, the core game of Phantasy Star III is solid enough that the game remains eminently playable, and the reduced grind time means that seeing all four endings the game has to offer is a viable goal for the player. The hit taken to the aesthetics, however, can make one wonder if the game was perhaps a bit too ambitious for the cartridge size it had. In any case, the game does still have a rather unique setting, and the idea of a people living on an artificial object that have regressed to the point that they've forgotten the purpose of the construction they live on calls back to some classic science-fiction, such as Larry Niven's Ringworld.

 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Tue Mar 19, '13, 8:25 pm 
Colony Wars
Release Date: 1997 (NA, EU), 1998 (JP)
Developer: Psygnosis
Platform: Sony Playstation
Space Combat

While proper space-combat games have generally been the domain of PC gaming, the Playstation generation was the first where cockpit-view space-combat games on consoles became a viable prospect. While Wing Commander 3 was ported early to the PS1, Psygnosis games, creator of WipeOut and G-Police decided to create a Playstation-exclusive space combat game. Colony Wars was released in 1997 to absolutely universal acclaim, and was successful enough to spawn two sequels. Managing to not only create a proper space-combat game, but one that was perceived as a good one, with a console's limitation in mind was something of a triumph for Psygnosis, earning them even more goodwill than what they had already accumulated over their years of existence.

So, the setup- near the beginning of the 4th millennium, following the discovery of an anti-aging drug, Earth's natural resources had been stripped bare, so the entire will of Earth became focused towards colonizing and exploiting other planets to supply the needs of humanity's homeworld. In order to force the compliance of the colonies, Earth became organized into an Empire, and enforced its will through the vast power of its Colonial Navy. The discovery of Warp Hole travel opened up the stars for conquest and the expansion of man's empire, and any other intelligent species inhabiting systems slated for colonization were destroyed without mercy by the Navy on the orders of the Tzar of the Empire, as such things were merely obstacles. As the centuries went on, the yoke of the Empire grew so heavy that one planet even attempted to break away from the Empire, but was destroyed in reprisal by the Colonial Navy. In response, distant colonies began to arm themselves, and form an alliance called the League of Free Worlds. The Navy force sent to crush the rebellion in its infancy was lured into a trap and destroyed in a series of ambushes, giving the League time to grow stronger and into a force capable of contending with the Navy. After centuries of on and off warfare with the Empire, the war is entering its last stretch, as the Navy is preparing to launch a new attack on the system that serves as the heart of the League, and the League itself has gathered the strength to possibly make a counterattack against the Empire so fierce it might well take them all the way to Sol itself.

The gameplay of Colony Wars is actually fairly standard for space shooters. You control a fighter craft that has full degrees of freedom of movement, whose characteristics, such as weapons, speed, and defenses depend on which craft was assigned for that particular mission. The regular variety of attack and escort missions also applies here, but as your craft may also be equipped with special mission equipment, such as tracer pods or tractor beams, there are a couple of missions which are out of the ordinary, such as one where you have to disable a Navy communication craft and tow it back to a friendly vessel. Weapons overheat, so they cannot be fired absolutely continuously. Perhaps one of the more distinct characteristics is that most weapons are designed to effect either shields or hull, and you need to keep an eye on your target's status to ensure you are using the most effective weapon (shields do not regenerate). The few weapons that are effective against both shields and hull often have some kind of disadvantage- Plasma cannon shots travel more slowly than normal, meaning they are generally only effective against large ships, the scatter laser is inaccurate at all but the shortest ranges, the plasma torpedo takes longer to arm than other types, and so on. The game uses a branching mission system, so failure doesn't instantly mean total defeat- there are, in fact, two complete story branches of equal length, and a total of five endings- two good, one neutral, two bad.

Colony Wars does suffer from a couple of things that were a bit on the common side of design for this sort of game. The first is that there is no ability to select or customize your craft, something that Wing Commander allowed in 3 and onwards, and also there is the problem that no one was ever able to design a decent escort mission until Freespace 2 came along- Colony Wars being not even the slightest exception to that rule. this means that you are likely to occasionally end up in missions your craft is not especially well suited for, and the rather feeble defenses of friendly warships against enemy fighter attacks make the inevitable escort missions a chore at best. Non-regenerating shields, which are actually a rarity in space-combat games of this type, make recovering from a bad start in a level more difficult than usual. However, on the gameplay and mission design front, Colony Wars does provide a great deal more hits than misses.

While the story of the game is one that can be found in many places in the space-combat gaming realm, the focus of the storytelling is on building an atmosphere, and the game accomplishes this in a couple of ways. The first is the inclusion of an extensive audio database with entries for every planet in every system that you pass through, detailing their general features, history, and military defenses, and a similar database exists for all of the combat craft in the game. This database is well worth listening to, as it is not only contains interesting information on the general setting and history thereof, but also the occasional dose of reasonably well-executed black humor. Brief cutscenes come frequently, one accompanying every group of three missions, lasting long enough to render an impact without overstaying their welcome. While it is possible to skip the cutscenes, I have never felt the urge to do so.

The aesthetics haven't suffered as much over time as other PS1 games, as Colony Wars uses the Playstation's 3D capabilities to render ships and installations instead of people. The League and the Navy each have a very distinct design aesthetic, and while proper scale is still not yet enforced, the large warships do at least look appropriately massive. The game gives superior visual and audio feedback so that a player can always tell when a hit has been scored on an enemy craft, whether its shields are down, and other important information. The soundtrack is superb and entirely orchestral, lending something of a grandeur to the proceedings even if the missions are not as huge as ones that came in later space combat games.

While Colony Wars does have its own sometimes maddening warts, it is a game that would not be out of place in any PS gamer's collection.

Sample videos- gameplay first, then cutscenes.

Gallonigher Mission: closing the Warp Hole

Some Cutscenes:

 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Thu Apr 25, '13, 1:57 am 
I keep meaning to comment on a particular review, but I just wanted to say in general that you write some darn good reviews, R-90-2. Really well-written, and about as objective as it comes. And you tend to pick pretty fun games to review, too.

Do you happen to write short stories, or keep a blog or anything like that? I'd be curious to know.

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