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 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Tue Jul 16, '13, 10:18 pm 
'Cause the reviews don't stop, not even for my birthday. :)

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Final Fantasy VII
Developer: Squaresoft
Release Date: 1997 (JP, NA) 2012 (PC re-release)
Platform: PS1, PC
Genre: RPG
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Final Fantasy VII, as the title implies, is the seventh entry in Squaresoft's long-running Final Fantasy series, and the first that was created for the Playstation 1. While previous games in the series, and JRPGs in general has achieved some measure of cult status, FF7 was the first JRPG to achieve truly widespread commercial success in the West, even though the previously localized games in the West had met with some degree of critical acclaim from the gaming press. FF7's unprecedented success not only cemented its place as one of Squaresoft's darlings, but also made other publishers aware that there was a potentially large market for JRPGs in American and other Western countries, establishing the greater availability of such games as currently exists today. No game is more associated with the ultimate success of the Playstation 1 or the popularization of console JRPGs in the West, and one of the PS3's first tech demos was a recreation of the opening cutscene of FF7 using the console's advanced graphical prowess. As indisputably important as the game's place in gaming history is, that is not my most immediate concern.

So, the setup of Final Fantasy VII is as followed. The world is effectively ruled by the Shinra Power Company, whose worldwide energy monopoly is enforced by a powerful private military. The primary means of energy production are the Shinra Mako reactors which indirectly process the life force of the planet itself to produce power- the city of Midgar, Shinra's stronghold and corporate headquarters is surrounded in all directions by an utterly barren wasteland. Midgar itself is a testament to Shinra's will and vision- those who have, live on the city's upper plate, while those who have not live below, and for the most part, rarely even see the sun. However, in the bowels of Midgar itself, a resistance cell named AVALANCHE has formed, and joined by Cloud Strife, an ex-member of Shinra's elite SOLDIER division, they embark on a mission to take the fight to Shinra and destroy one of the city's Mako reactors. However, Shinra's sins are many, and one of their other experiments with mako energy may yet prove an even greater threat to the planet.

The gameplay of FF7 is built around the Active Time Battle System, which was first pioneered in FF4 and would be the core of Final Fantasy gameplay until Final Fantasy 9. Each character has a time bar that fills up at varying rates depending on the character's speed, modified by status effects such has haste and slow. Once this bar fills, the character gets to choose an available action from their menu, such as fight, defend, item, and so on. The character's available abilities are dependent on items called Materia (named after the magic-granting crystals in the HP Lovecraft story, The Strange case of Charles Dexter Ward) that are equipped to their armor and weapons, which grant the character spells, bonuses, and other abilities dependent on types. When equipped, these Materia gain experience in battle as well, and some of them level up and allow the character to use more powerful spells or abilities. The number of Materia that can be equipped is based on the character's equipment, and there is some equipment that affects the rate of Materia advancement. Some equipment has linked slots that allow Materia to be modified by other Materia, the most common example being linking, say, Fire Materia to an E-All Mat, which would allow the character's fire spells to target all enemies or all friends. Also added are Limit breaks, which are special abilities which become available as the character takes damage- each character can potentially end up with seven, and they are unique to each of the game's characters. Once the character has a Limit Break available, their action speed greatly increases. Leveled Materia stay leveled, and grant their earned abilities on any character they're equipped to, meaning that each character doesn't have to individually grind out the abilities.

One of the improvements made is that the game's combat system is a fair bit less breakable than its immediate predecessor, Final Fantasy IV. While the previous game was stacked with ways to break the combat system, FF7 has relatively few, and there are less glitches overall that the player can exploit in their favor. this isn't to say that there are no exploits, as FF7 would hardly fit into the FF tradition if it had none, but the player must generally work far harder for them than in prior games. The game also tends to limit the amount of magic that can be placed on one character, as magic-granting Materia tends to make a character more frail and less effective with their basic attacks, so there are more decisions that need to be made regarding what and how much magic a character should be equipped with.

The game's story progression is a bit uneven. FF7 likely has the strongest early game in the franchise, as it does two very important things- it immediately sets itself up as something visibly distinct from earlier entries in the series with the corporate dystopia of Midgar itself, and takes less than two minutes to plunge the player directly into the action. Most of the player's matter-of-course party members are even acquired in Midgar itself, with only two acquired afterwards. After those first few hours in Midgar, however, the game does lose some of that uniqueness, as many of the towns that follow are somewhat closer to the more typical Final Fantasy semi-bucolic construction. Square had not yet lost its touch as far as characters went at this point, either, as many of the characters are subversions of prior archetypes in previous RPGs. Cloud was the boy who wanted to grow up to be the best swordsman, but ended up grumpy and bitter once he found out what that really meant, Barret is the leader of freedom fighters, but is somewhat unconcerned with "collateral damage", and so on. Perhaps most importantly, though, Square had eased back on the Failure throttle that had been pushed to full for the previous three games in the series, as the player is allowed to make certain meaningful accomplishments before the final dungeon is revealed.

Unfortunately, the game was saddled with an initial translation that was serviceable at best, and at worst was hilariously atrocious, in places being more lackluster than the one for FF4 in the pre-Woolsey days. One particular line is so notoriously poorly proofread that Puwexil took a couple of seconds out of his speedrun for Awesome Games Done Quick just to show it off. This is doubly unfortunate because FF7 had attempted to create a more complex story, and in a couple of places the translation errors hindered the comprehension of the plot. While these errors were corrected for the PC release, the initial translation was considered so poor by Squaresoft that it served as the catalyst for Square to create its own localization department. Even besides that, there is some information that is practically vital to understanding certain parts of the story, but is so deeply hidden in the game, a guide is almost required to find it.

The presentation of the game is praiseworthy. Nobuo Umeatsu once again works his soundtrack magic with this game, with not a weak track to be found- and the tracks that use lyrics do, in fact, use actual Latin, not faux-Latin gibberish that could be found in numerous imitators of certain tracks in the game. Unfortunately, the PC release used much lower-quality MIDI versions of the original tracks, but there are mods that restore the game's original soundtrack to the PC version. This is also the first game in the series where both monsters and characters were substantially animated in the battle sequences. However, as the game made use of 2nd-generation 3D graphics, there are a number of things that look dated, most notably the characters' crude out-of-battle character models. The game also still relies on pre-rendered backgrounds. The game is also remarkably restrained in its use of cutscenes compared to RPGs and other games that followed- assuming a not-unrealistic 50-hour playthrough, 1.5% of the game will be spent in comfortably spaced, bite-sized cutscenes, compared to the 20% or more that following games adopted that forced the player to lose control for 2o minutes at a stretch.

Final Fantasy VII is an ultimately uneven game that averages out to a rather solid game in the franchise. It is still eminently playable and is less exploitable than some of its predecessors, but ended up unfortunately inheriting a substandard translation in a game that needed one that was superior. All in all, at its best moments it can easily rival the other games in the franchise, and at its worst, it's not guilty of anything that other entries in the franchise haven't also been guilty of, before or since.


Last edited by R-90-2 on Fri Oct 18, '13, 9:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Thu Sep 5, '13, 12:45 am 
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Valis IV
Developer: Telenet Japan
Release Date: 1991 (JP)
Platform: Turbo CD
Genre: Action-platformer
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Valis IV is the final story installment of the Valis action-platformer series, released for the Turbo CD in 1991. The US did not receive the Cd version of the game, and instead received the SNES version, Super Valis IV, which had some significant gameplay changes, but also excised much of the story as well as features that were present in the CD version of the game. There were no more story installments in the series after this game- the last Valis action-platformer game to be released would be the remake of Valis I for the Turbo CD, which also would never see a Western release. This is a shame, however, as the CD version of Valis IV did make some interesting strides and decisions in its gameplay as compared to its predecessor, and is considered, in general to be the superior of the two versions of Valis IV that were created and released.

So, the plot is as follows- It has been fifteen years since Yuko relinquished the mantle of the Valis Warrior and ascended to the heavens to become the protector goddess of the twin swords, but trouble stirs in the depths of Earth. Hundreds of years ago, Vecanti was ruled by an immortal king, Asfal whose power was unquestioned, in part to the fact that he created the Titan Ring, which gave him vast, uncontestable power that only he could master and control. However, his son, Galgear, jealous of his father's strength, stole the Ring and was almost immediately corrupted by and driven to near-madness by its uncontrolled might. As his might and urge to conquer threatened all of Vecanti, the gods of that place placed him in a crystal prison and buried it deep under the oceans of another world- Earth. Now, Galgear's followers have raised his prison from the ocean and freed their master, allowing him to pick up where he left off, and his first attack devastate parts of Earth and Vanity, the dreamworld, during the latter of which he captures Queen Valna. Cham gathers what's left of the army to form a resistance, but they are driven literally underground by the strength of Galgear's forces. Still, one soldier, Lena Brande, refuses to believe that the battle is hopeless, and begs Cham to let her go and try to rescue the queen. Cham is about to refuse when she hears the voice of Yuko tell her to let Lena go. Joined by her younger sister, Amu, the two venture out to recover the queen, and are soon joined by King Asfal himself, who tells the pair that they only chance they have of defeating Galgear now is to seize the Valis Sword form its resting place in the heavens- and even then, it will be a hard battle to defeat Galgear and break the power of the Ring.

The gameplay of Valis IV is that of a fairly conventional action-platformer, but it makes a couple of divergences from its predecessor. The power of the characters is determined by Level, which is increased by certain pickups- and while this does increase the attack abilities available to the characters you control, it also increases your maximum life bar. Magic is no longer based on MP, but instead a self-recharging magic meter that has three possible levels. The magic meter is increased by pickups, but using level 3 magic actually resets the meter to a maximum of level 2 magic, so the most powerful spells require the player to grab another magic pickup between uses. Far more of an effort has been made to distinguish your selectable characters than in Valis III, not only by their varied magics, but by their basic abilities. Lena's sword has the widest normal attack, and a slide that can not only cross gaps, but is invincible. Amu has a boomerang-like attack that can hit twice, as well as a double-jump. King Asfal is strong, and his armor protects him from spikes, force fields, ice physics, and other unwanted movement, but he is large, so he has a larger hitbox than the other characters, making it harder to evade attacks.

The bosses in this game are generally fair, and the difficulty in the levels remains on a fairly consistent curve rather than the erratic difficulty that characterized other games in the series, most notably the CD version of Valis III. Part of playing the game is also knowing which characters are best suited for fighting which bosses, as some bosses that are very difficult for some characters are almost trivial for others- unfortunately, you are not allowed to switch characters once you enter a boss battle., and there are a few bosses who you must fight as certain characters. The most unfortunate thing, however, is that Amu's double jump controls are quite finicky, as the second jump can only be performed at a certain time during the first. As there are many jumps where the double jump is required to get across, death by gravity is practically inevitable.

The story progression is the handled the same as in previous CD-based Valis games, through voiced and (somewhat) animated cutscenes. Lena is much more of a can-do go-getter than Yuko was, and starts her story as a decent and semi-experienced fighter (for the first four of the nine stages, she makes do with a normal sword before getting the Valis Sword). Amu is generally tagging along just to make sure that Lena doesn't get her fool self killed during her bout of heroics, and Asfal is a capable team advisor who has some esoteric knowledge, such as providing the party with the land route to the heavens. there is nothing particularly wrongheaded or objectionable about how the story conducts or presents itself, and it doesn't take any strange turns into crazy territory, such as in the final installment of the NES Ninja Gaiden trilogy. The game does end on a slightly melancholy note, but expecting sunshine and rainbows from the Valis series at this juncture would be expecting something counter to what the rest rest of the series had provided up to that point.

As for the aesthetic presentation, Telenet has made excellent use of the CD audio capabilities provided by their chosen platform. There are only one or two tracks that might be considered a bit dull, while the rest are fine or even great, creating an overall good soundtrack that doesn't waste the possibilities of the disc-based game. The stage backgrounds are excellent, and the character sprites tend to be rather well-animated. The cutscenes themselves tend to involve a bit more animation than was typical even for the ones that had appeared previously on the Turbo CD, and some actual voice talent was enlisted for the roles, such as the late, great Kaneto Shiozawa. There is little to criticize in their choices in this department, as far as creating a 16-bit era platformer goes.

All in all, Valis IV for the Turbo CD is a challenging, flawed, but well-presented game that should be played by Valis fans who can get their hands on it. While I do have reservations about recommending it to those who have not already drunk from the Valis well, fans of the series will likely enjoy the game once they learn to compensate for its rough spots.

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Last edited by R-90-2 on Thu Sep 5, '13, 12:45 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Sat Oct 19, '13, 3:39 pm 
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Xenogears
Developer: Squaresoft
Release Date: 1998 (JP, NA)
Platform: PS1
Genre: RPG
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Following on the heels of the massive success of Final Fantasy VII, the JRPG finally became a popular genre in the US. While other companies would capitalize on this, such as Nintendo with its Pokémon series, Square turned its attention towards releasing RPGs that it may not have otherwise considered localizing. In 1998, Square produced Xenogears, and ambitious game that was created with an eye towards presenting a far more complex narrative than was usually found in JRPGs at the time. While the large scope of its ambition did end up meaning that a fair chunk of the later game had to be abridged, the game did end up receiving a large amount of critical acclaim on its release, though the game was not as commercially successful as Square's other RPG offerings.

The setup is as follows. Fei Fong Wong, a painter and martial artist, is generally unaware of his past- however, he is content to live out his days in an out of the way village. This comes to an end when the war between the world's two superpowers, Aveh and Kislev, comes right to his doorstep when a mysterious Gear (giant robot) crashes in his village, pursued by Kislev forces. Fei manages to use the mysterious machine to destroy the Kislev Gears, but in the battle many of the inhabitants of the village are killed, and, feeling responsible, Fei leaves. Assisted by the village doctor, Citan, Fei begins to unravel the mysteries behind the war itself, how he knew how to pilot the Gear, and eventually even search out the truth behind the origin, nature, and purpose of humanity's existence in the world.

The gameplay, at its base, is not that much different than can be found in other Square RPGs at the time, and is at least familiar enough so that Final Fantasy fans could jump right in. The game is based around the active time battle system, uses experience, HP, MP, and all that. the main difference in combat comes from how basic, physical attacks are handled. Rather than having a single attack, characters have a number of Action Points based on the character's level, which can be spent to construct combos of light, medium, and heavy attacks, with the more powerful attacks costing more AP. Heavy attacks are the least accurate, but their accuracy can be increased by preceding them with lighter attacks. As a character gains more AP, they can also learn powerful special combos through experimentation- and the game is very clear about no only what combinations result in special combos, but also how far the player is towards unlocking them. Each character also has their own, unique, MP-based abilities. The game's combo system lends a more action-y feel to its combat, without imposing a twitch barrier to the player.

Each character also has, or eventually acquires, their own Gear, though gear combats are different enough to deserve their own description. While the basic attacks available to Gears are generally the same as the ones available to their pilots, each Gear has a Fuel capacity, which it spent whenever a Gear makes an attack or uses a built-in special ability. Healing also costs a great deal of fuel, so Gear battles are on a generally harder time limit than normal battles. Gears also have their own separate equipment slots, and Fuel and attack power can be upgraded by getting new engines for the Gears. Special combos require more setup, as using special combos requires the Gear to have hit with normal attack in the previous turn, and it takes more turns to unlock higher special combos for use. The more special combos character has unlocked, the more special combos his Gear will have access to.

Navigation in towns and dungeons is different as well- while final Fantasy 7 used polygonal characters on a 2D background, Xenogears uses 2D sprites in full 3D environments, allowing for three-dimensional movement through jumping. Ploygonal models are generally reserved for Gears and similarly-sized creatures, and then generally only in combat. While the addition of jumping and such does make the navigation of environments a bit more dynamic, the player is required, at points, to make maddening jumps that the engine just isn't quite precise enough to consistently handle, and missing these jumps may mean a very long climb back up to the spot the player fell from. Aside from this, however, Xenogears is a very challenging, but fair, game, and the later Gear fights especially require a fair bit of planning to ensure success.

The story of the game is actually something of a dividing point. Even aside from the fact that the most plot-thick section of the game had to be divested of any overworld segments, the game's story was ambitious in its complexity- there are fourteen recognized subplots running throughout the game. Unfortunately, these subplots come at the expense of the characterization of the party, which had to be greatly reduced from the original vision. With only a couple of exceptions, the stories of many of the cast members other than the lead are reduced to what are effectively footnotes in the game's story. Even aside from this, the characters tend to be a bit more one-dimensional than what Square usually offers, and this is very much to the detriment of the game. This is a great shame, especially as Square pioneered the character-driven JRPG in the first place.

Even aside from the complexities of the story interfering with the characterization, the multiplicity of the subplots even interfere with the narrative itself, creating a tangled mass of story threads that are, in the end, only barely comprehensible without the aid of the supplemental book, Xenogears: Perfect Works. Many critical background details are only barely explained, if at all, over the course of the main story, and the story becomes so burdened with details that are presented as crucial but given little context that the plot, at some later points, may seem to collapse under its own weight. It's also one of the Square games that gives the illusion of success, as the game takes a cue from Final Fantasy 6 and has an event that makes all of the player's accomplishments in the previous 50 hours of gameplay effectively moot. Parts of the game are show in animated cutscenes, but these are few and shabbily handled, as there is often not even the most rudimentary attempt to synch the spoken dialogue with the animation.

The rest of the game's aesthetics, however, are not lacking in the least.the soundtrack was handled by Yasanori Matsuda, and he does about a good a job with this game as he did with Chrono Trigger, presenting an excellent mix of pieces to drive the game. While the character sprites in dungeons and the overworld are a bit grainy, the combat sprites and animations are excellent and varied, serving as an excellent accompaniment to the combo-based action that the player interacts with. Jumping puzzles aside, the game does have some truly good environments to play the game through.

Xenogears is effectively the opposite of Phantasy Star 2. While PSII had an excellent story that got bogged down in tedious gameplay, Xenogears has excellent gameplay that labors under the burden of one of the most cumbersome stories ever to be foisted on a JRPG. While the game is strong on the fundamentals, if one is looking for a Playstation RPG with a more complex story than the norm, one would be better served elsewhere, even with other Square games like Final Fantasy Tactics.


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 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Sat Oct 19, '13, 5:47 pm 
I think that Xenogears is of those games that would really benefit from a remake. It has been years since I've played Xenogears, but I remember feeling like the game bit off more than it could chew. While the story was pretty in depth, it felt rushed, and it was spread too thin. There were too many characters in the game, and no enough attention was focused where it should have been.

The regular combat system was pretty good, but it took a long time for it to truly shine. The gear combat on the other hand really needed to be re-worked. Conserving your resources caused the gear battles to go on for far too long, and even though it seemed like you gears had a lot of HP when you started an area, your HP was soon depleted, and you were constantly pulling all of your resources together to stay alive.

Graphically, the game looks terrible these days. With an overhaul on the graphics alone, Xenogears would be much more playable.

I've played all the way through Xenogears twice, but I would never play it again unless they fixed the things I mentioned above. Even though the game takes 70-80 hours to beat, you still feel like the game should keep going, but it doesn't. It just kind of stops.

Despite all of this, the soundtrack is phenomenal. One of my favorite soundtracks out there.

I recently picked up Xenoblade Chronicles for the Wii, but I really don't know much about it other than it got pretty good review scores. Hopefully I enjoy it more than I did Xenogears.


Last edited by S4Blade on Sat Oct 19, '13, 5:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Mon Nov 18, '13, 2:45 am 
Here's an idea, Nintendo, free of charge- the next time you want to make a Zelda game, you don't call it Zelda. Maybe instead of Link, the main character could be someone else, like... A dog. Maybe instead of Hyrule it could be set somewhere original, like feudal Japan. And maybe instead of collecting tools to access new dungeons and areas, you could collect magic spells that are cast by, say, painting funny shapes with a magic brush. Hang on a second, I'm gonna write this down. Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw.

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Okami
Developer: Clover Studio (published by Capcom)
Release Date: 2006 (JP) 2007 (NA)
Platform: PS2
Genre: Action-adventure
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(This review is based on the PS2 version)

Okami was the first non-Viewtiful Joe game released by the short-lived Clover Studios. Taking much of its cue from the Zelda series, it was something of a large gameplay departure from the previous arcade-style sidescrollers that the team had been known for. While the game's development initially lacked focus, the process was free of any excessive shenanigans. The end result was one of the most well-received games for the Playstation 2, but the enormous critical acclaim that the game received did not translate into commercial success. The Playsation 2 and Wii sales combined did not even break 600,000, making Okami the least commercially successful game to ever win game of the year awards. While this was not one of the root causes of the dissolution of Clover Studios, the game still ended up being mentioned in the same breath as Psychonauts as games whose high critical standing was never matched by market success.

So, the setup that the game provides is as follows. Long ago, the village of Kamiki lived under the shadow of Orochi, the mighty eight-headed mountain serpent. Every year he would demand a maiden sacrifice, and every year the village chose to obey rather than be destroyed. However, it eventually grew to be unbearable, and so a warrior named Nagi went to slay the beast. He proved to be no match until Shiranui, the goddess Amaterasu in the form of a white wolf with miraculous powers made it possible for Nagi to defeat Orochi, though it was at the cost of the wolf's life. Nagi set his sword as a seal on the beast's cave, to ensure he would not revive. A hundred years later, a man from the village removes the sword out of curiosity, freeing Orochi and allowing the monster to spread his dark influence all throughout the land of Nippon. Now, the sun goddess Amaterasu has been called to once again take the form of the white wolf and defeat Orochi and the servants of darkness, but with faith in the gods at an all-time low, most of her powers missing, and the fact that Nagi's descendant is a cowardly lazybones, there is quite a struggle to be had.

The gameplay of Okami, by the staff's own admission, takes many of its cues from the 3D Zelda games that ended up defining the shape of the action-adventure game. The game is played from the third-person perspective, and is navigated in the usual way, as Amaterasu has the usual range of beginning maneuvers- running, jumping and all that. Her life meter is represented by solar orbs, which function identically to Zelda's heart containers. Monsters can be encountered in the field or dungeons, but they take place in walled-off arenas. Scoring combos with Amaterasu's variety of weapons can increase her level of Godhood, with each level allowing her to take a hit without sustaining damage. her weapons are divided into three types- mirrors, which are the most basic weapon, beads, which are used for ranged attacks, and glaives(swords) which are slower, but strong and can be charged for greater power. The money gained from these encountered can be used to buy new weapons, fighting techniques, and other helpful items, and money remains useful throughout the whole of the game. These fights can also give you a special type of currency called Demon Fangs, which can also be acquired through the button-mashing/timing minigames present in the game's loading screens. Amaterasu can also boost her abilities like her maximum health, ink, and money capacity through earning Praise, which is gained through making Nippon more hospitable and pleasant in other ways- feeding the wildlife, causing dead trees to spring to life and bloom, purifying cursed zones and destroying cursed gates, and so on. Aside from the rare difficulties with the camera, navigation is quite easy.

The ink ties into one of the more stylistically distinct parts of Okami. Rather than gaining mechanical tools to access new dungeons and areas, Amaterasu acquires celestial brush techniques (the brush in question being Amaterasu's tail), which are used by temporarily pausing the action and painting the shapes on the field using the buttons and appropriate analog stick. Some of these are required for use against certain bosses, and most enemies have a severe weakness to at least one of the brush techniques. Because many of these abilities are dependent on elements in the environment, this does require the player to have a great deal of awareness of what the areas of the game provide the player to work with. The limit on using the brush techniques is Ink, which regenerates over time- and if you use it all too quickly, you not only can't do techniques until you regenerate, but Amaterasu loses the use of her sacred weapons and other powers, requiring you to fight with more natural weapons until enough ink refills.

The dungeon, boss, and enemy design in this game are all high-class. It is usually simple enough to deduce what the game desires you to do, and even if it isn't, there is usually enough in the environment for the player to deduce it in a tolerable amount of time. Almost all of the bosses have some manner of unique procedure involved so that almost none of the bosses are a mere bash-fest- for example, against one boss, when you stop to use the celestial brush, there is a limit to the time you can spend deciding what to do, as the boss has its own brush which it can use to call up its own techniques. The game itself is certainly the easiest of the offerings by Clover Studios- it isn't as difficult as Viewtiful Joe, and is certainly less punishing than God Hand. Anyone experienced with games of this type probably won't have a huge amount of difficulty completing the main game, though there are a number of challenging optional encounters.

The game's story doesn't do too much out of the ordinary on paper, but what it does do is pepper the proceedings with either references to or the direct inclusion of what's basically the who's who of Japanese myth, folklore, and even delving into some more normal literature for its collection of monsters and persons. For example, the player can, on their trip through mythic Japan, expect to encounter the old bamboo cutter and his extraterrestrial daughter. And Urashima Taro, the man who unwittingly stayed so long in the undersea dragon palace that he has to keep his old age in a box. And Princess Fuse and the Eight Dog Warriors (who are, true to Okami, now actually dogs). this, as well, as even more generally obscure beings, like Moshirechiku and Kotanechiku (shortened to Lechku and Nechku), the twin owl demons of Ainu myth. My inserting all of these and more, as well as a number of original, colorful characters, the game gives a great deal of life to what might otherwise be regarded as an ordinary plot. Even the more minor characters seem to understand the kind of mythic setting they're in, as merchants think nothing of selling goods to a white wolf, so long as it has the money, and people seem to merely find it a bit odd if the sun suddenly rises three times within a few minutes. If there is a flaw to the game's presentation of story, it's that a couple of the dialogue sequences go on for what may seem like a very long time in a game that's more usually about getting the player quickly to the action.

It's difficult to separate the game's aesthetics from both the story and the gameplay because the sheer atmosphere of the game insinuates itself into practically every scene or action the player gets involved is. Okami's particular form of cel-shading takes its cue from Japanese ink-wash paintings and Ukyio-e wood block prints. Every encounter with a new enemy, boss, or major story milestone is accompanied by the presentation of lavish illustration. Even the smaller actions the player takes in the game are accompanied by their own flair. Flowers and grass spring up being Amaterasu as she runs, the plants becoming larger the faster she moves. An ineffective attack is not only noted by the usual "clank" noise, but the appearance of the kanji characters for "useless". Even beyond the visuals the game provides, the game is accompanied by an extraordinary soundtrack, created with an eye towards replicating the sound associated with classical Japanese instruments, providing numerous pieces that do well to tie the experience together.

Through the use of solid gameplay combined with a unique and engaging presentation that inhabits every aspect of play, Okami turns what might be an ordinary action game into something extraordinary. While it is probably one of the most aggressively Japanese games to ever be localized, it is still an absolute recommendation to anyone who has ever been a fan of the Zelda games, anyone who has been a fan of action RPGs in general, and anyone who was ever interested in giving the genre a try.


Last edited by R-90-2 on Mon Nov 18, '13, 6:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Mon Nov 18, '13, 6:08 am 
Excellent review. There is nothing I can really disagree with, especially your point about Psychonauts. You hit on all the minor little niggles with the game, and all the things that make it so good that massively outweigh the flaws. I'm only surprised you didn't spend more time on that incredible soundtrack. I have it all in my iTunes library and a good chunk on a playlist permanently synced to my phone. Still my second favorite game of all time, only behind EarthBound.


Last edited by Wolf Bird on Mon Nov 18, '13, 6:08 am, edited 2 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Mon Nov 18, '13, 1:00 pm 
Well, if I ever pick up music theory as a hobby, I'll go back and edit something in. :)


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 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Mon Nov 18, '13, 3:22 pm 
And now, from the sublime to the ridiculous.

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Lagoon
Developer: Zoom Entertainment (published by Kemco)
Release Date: 1991 (JP) 1991 (NA) 1993 (EU)
Platform: SNES
Genre: Action RPG
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This review will be based on the SNES version of the game.

Lagoon is an action RPG that as originally developed in 1990 for the Sharp X68000 computer system by Zoom entertainment. While Falcom was working on its own part of Ys I & II for the X68k, Zoom got it in their heads to create an Ys-like game to capitalize on the popularity of Falcom's flagship franchise. This game eventually was ported in the following year, to become one of the early releases for the up-and-coming Super NES, managing to gain a foothold on the system even before Nintendo's own Zelda series had a representation on the system. However, the fact that it was an early arrival proved to be the only thing that might be said in its favor, and there are many reasons that it is a game that has been largely forgotten even by long-devoted fans of the SNES.

The setup that the game provides is as follows. Lagoon Castle, the place from which all water in Lakeland flows, has begun coming out muddy and foul. The wizard Matthias suspects that this must be the work of some great evil, so he sends his pupil and the player's character, Nasir out to get to the source of the problem, sending him to his old hometown of Altland. Soon enough, demons suddenly appear in the nearby mine, and so Nasir must follow the trail of incidents all the way to Lagoon Castle itself.

The gameplay is nothing out of the ordinary. While the Sharp version of the game used something largely the same as the bump system of combat used by the early Ys games, the SNES version uses more conventional combat with button pressing. Nasir may also jump to avoid projectiles and move over gaps, both of which will be essential, and Nasir can use numerous magic attacks through combining various staves and crystals he can acquire throughout the game. MP is also used to power rings that can do things like increase his attack or defense, or quickly regenerate his health. There are no inns or the like, as Nasir regenerates health and MP by standing still. Defeating enemies yields experience and gold, and Nasir gets stronger through gaining levels from this as well as acquiring new items and equipment.

There are many devils in the details of Lagoon's gameplay, the first and most notorious being Nasir's pitiful attack range in relation to his sprite, making the Short Sword the most honest sword in the game. This makes it unnecessarily difficult to hit many enemies without getting hit oneself, and there are additional difficulties involved with making basic attacks. While attacking to the left and right generally provide reliable representations of one's attack range, attacking up and down is far less so, as attacking upwards makes Nasir's range seem far longer than it actually is, and attacking down makes it seem as though Nasir has no range at all, making it very difficult to judge one's actual ability to strike opponents- especially galling since you have to attack upwards in order to attack many of the game's bosses. Most of the magics Nasir can use are generally useless, as they consume enormous amounts of MP for very little damage- out of the 16 magics, only three are ever all that useful (and enemy's defense becomes so high that none are useful by the endgame), and none may be used on bosses. There are also a couple of glitches involved in the gameplay itself- while Nasir's attacks usually can do a guaranteed minimum of damage regardless of the enemy's defense, there is a range of values that, when put into the damage formula, can produce a result of zero damage. The second is that the stat-boosting rings don't actually lose their effect once Nasir is reduced to zero MP- the boosts remain until Nasir gains a level or the player goes back into the equipment screen.

The dungeons in the game are largely bland, and some make such heavy use of repetition in environment design that, in many places, it is difficult for the player to place exactly where they are in relation to important points within the dungeon itself. The only thing that makes most normal enemies even a threat is Nasir's astoundingly small attack range, though there are some types of charging enemies that can kill Nasir very quickly due to the extremely small number of invincibility frames Nasir receives on being hit. The bosses tend to be difficult for reasons already discussed above, not because their individual patterns are cleverly designed, with a couple of possible exceptions. The slow pace and difficulties of combat make the inevitable mandatory grind for experience a tedious exercise. Money is not only useless at the end, as is normal, but also throughout most of the whole game. There are only two things ever worth the effort of grinding up to buy in the whole game, as the money for your starting equipment is given to you and everything else has to be or can be found in chests or from bosses. While the gameplay is not so terribly designed that the game is unplayable, it is not a pleasant experience.

The story progression is fairly ordinary (so much so that they even throw in a captured princess on top of everything else). However, unlike other games that have an ordinary plot done well, such as Ys or Okami, there is an incredible lack of any sort of self-examination of the world, rendering the adventure almost entirely bereft of context or place in the game world. There is practically no examination of any setting elements whatsoever beyond the bare minimum required to push the player from one point to the next. While such absences can and have been made up for by strong gameplay in other games (Legend of Zelda), Lagoon fails to deliver on that front, and as it was also, in some ways, trying to ape the Ys series, the end result is a game that aspires to tell a story in-play, but ends up with one that is largely bereft of the charm of many of its predecessors. The SNES version added a new final boss as well, meaning the boss who potentially had the most thematic weight in the whole game is relegated to the second slot whereas the new final boss is actually a palette swap of a previous, recently-defeated boss.

The aesthetics of the game are marginal, despite the fact that this game used the same cartridge size as the beautiful Legend of Zelda- A Link to the Past. The backgrounds are generally repetitive and dull, using muted colors and the like. the main exception is a bit of a galling one, as it undermines the entire adventuring premise of the game itself- All of the water that the player encounters through the game is clear, bright, and pristine, even the lake directly surrounding Lagoon Castle itself. The game's soundtrack is largely tolerable, mostly bland, and only has two or three pieces or so that are close to being noteworthy. On the low end, however, there are pieces that are extremely lazy, as one town theme consists entirely of two notes on a three-second loop.

Lagoon's only distinguishing quality is that it tries to imitate Ys, and fails in every area. This is a game best avoided under most circumstances, and is only worth examining as a sort of odd gaming curiosity.
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AGDQ speedrun of Lagoon:



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 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Fri Dec 13, '13, 7:08 pm 
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Ys V: Kefin, Lost Kingdom of Sand
Developer: Falcom
Release Date: 1995 (JP, Fan translated by Aeon Genesis)
Platform: SNES
Genre: RPG
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This is based on the original version of the game.

Ys V: Kefin, Lost Kingdom of Sand, is the fifth entry in Falcom's long-running Ys series, and the first to be exclusive to a single platform. Falcom returned to take on the development of the series, as both versions of Ys IV were developed by non-Falcom entities. The result was the game that ended up setting the direction of later, original entries in the series from then forward, as the game took on a decidedly more contemporary approach to action gaming, including things like jumping, and even finalizing the inclusion of an attack button. However, Ys V, for various reasons, is considered to be the black sheep of the series, othen said to be the worst Ys game (which is an odd thing to say in a world where the SNES port of Ys III exists). It ended up with a poor reception on launch, so much so that a revised version of the game, Ys V Expert was released not soon after. However, the damage was done, and Falcom would not release a new installment of the series until 2003, when it released Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim, to PC.

The setup is as follows- In the land of Xandria, rumors abound of Kefin, and ancient city of gold that disappeared hundreds of years ago. However, one of the leading citizens of Xandria is now funding a great search for the missing city, and word of this reached the ears of Adol Christin, who sets sail for Xandria in order to rediscover yet another lost civilization. Once there, he finds himself soon contacted by Stoker, a mysterious alchemist who used powerful magics to unnaturally extend his life for hundreds of years. However, in this country, there is a legend of a red-haired traveler who brings disaster wherever he goes. On top of that, there is one message that follows from both concerned townspeople and mysterious enemies alike- Do not look for the city of Kefin.

The gameplay of Ys V is somewhat more contemporary with that of other action RPGs of the period. Adol now has an attack button once more, and movement is now in more dimensions, as Adol's newfound ability to jump allows him to climb up ledges and cross gaps. His attack range is well-considered, and the hit detection is on-target. The various types of swords that Adol can buy actually influence the arc of Adol's swings, so some swords are thrusting, others are slicing, and so on. Adol's shield can now be used to completely block a fair number of enemy attacks, and using this correctly can make the difference between some boss encounters being very difficult and being very manageable. Adol also has two separate level tracks- his fighting level and his magic level. Raising his fighting level by killing enemies with his sword raises is HP significantly, his MP a bit, and increases his physical attack and defense. Raising his magic level is done by killing enemies with magic, which increases his MP by a fair bit, his HP slightly, as well as raising his magic attack and defense. Magic is obtained by combing three elements that Adol finds throughout he game into Fluxstones, which are then attached to his sword and activated by charging up his spirit power-which is done by holding (and much more quickly by tapping) the R button. The game's economy works differently than in previous games- instead of directly getting gold from killing monsters, monsters instead drop gems that you sell in town for various prices. An interesting, but not particularly necessary bit of trading savvy that Adol can take part in is selling the gems where you can get more money for them and then going back and buying equipment at a town where the desired gear is cheaper, as gear prices also can vary from town to town.

While the gameplay is, overall, solid, it is not without its warts. While there are a great many spells that Adol can use through alchemy, many of them have a long casting time that make them difficult to use against most enemies, meaning that there are only a few spells that are practical to use in regular combat. Also, enemy projectiles do not take where Adol is on the Z axis into account, so it is actually impossible to jump over enemy projectiles, as Adol will take damage so long as his shadow is still on the same horizontal path as the attack. One of the more contentious bits is that Ys V is actually a fair bit easier than other Ys games. Even bosses tend not to do enormous damage, and powerful healing items are readily available for purchase and use, so one must be extremely careless to die in many cases.

The story progression is actually fairly strong. The game actually defies trained expectations regarding certain characters in the game, and there are certain plot developments within the game that are still a bit unique. The game also marks the first appearance of Terra, who would reappear in Ark of Napishtim, making her one of the two female characters in the series to appear in more than one game. Even the main girl-in-"distress" of the game ends up playing a far more active role in the resolution of the story than was normal for the series at that point. The story feels more of an ensemble piece than previous Ys games, with Adol playing a part in resolving the mystery of Kefin rather than doing a one-man show.

The aesthetics are fairly strong as well, for the most part. Adol and many of the bosses are quite well-animated, and this is the first game in the series where the sprites were large and detailed enough for Adol to fight bosses similar in size and technique to himself. The soundtrack is definitely up to par with the rest of the series, making much better use of the SNES's hardware than previous Ys entries on the system did. While the environment design is solid, in some places it lacks the flair of the exotic that likely should come with Adol's first non-European adventure.

Ys V is a solid entry in the series, if on the easier side of things. While it is not the most amazingly outstanding game, it certainly does not deserve the bad rap it has gotten over the years, and is a game that is well enough worth playing.
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Last edited by R-90-2 on Fri Dec 13, '13, 7:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Fri Dec 20, '13, 10:06 pm 
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Arcana
Developer: HAL Laboratory
Release Date: 1992 (JP, NA)
Platform: SNES
Genre: RPG
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Arcana is a 1st-person dungeon crawler RPG developed by HAL Laboratory, now more famous for the Kirby series and the Smash Bros. games. This card-themed game was a takeoff on the fact that the Wizardry series continued to be popular in Japan (and would remain so even after its effective demise in the West). However, Arcana's reception in the West was not especially warm, as the dungeon-crawler RPG genre had very few entries of note on consoles at the time of the game's release- such games, and the playstyle associated with them, were more generally found on the PC, and so the game fared more poorly than other contemporary console RPGs. As such, the game never became as well known as many of HAL's later offerings on the system.

The setup of the game is as follows- long ago, the land of Elemen was ruled by a monstrous being known as Rimisala, but she was defeated by a group of wizards called the Card Masters, who had the power to command the world's elemental spirits. Since then, the land was divided into six kingdoms. While these have had their own bouts of turmoil, things took a bad turn when the wizard Galneon overthrew the King of Lexford and plunged the continent into war, using the struggle as a cover to hunt own and kill the remaining Card Masters. Only one of the original Knights of Lexford survived the coup, and the royal family's two daughters went missing. Ten years after the Coup, Rooks, the son of the last Card Master, has begun to train himself in the use of the secret magics passed down through his family. However, trouble stirs once again in the land, and monsters have begun to occupy even the sacred places in the countryside, so it is up to Rooks and his ever-shifting band of companions to put an end to Galneon's ambition.

The gameplay is somewhat typical for games of the dungeon-crawling genre. Rooks and his party start each chapter in a hub town where the player can purchase gear and other essentials. From there, the player leaves town and delves into the dungeon, exploring as much as is feasible before returning to town to recover and resupply. The game is played from the first person perspective, much like Wizardry or Shining in the Darkness. While Rooks's party shifts throughout the whole game, there are always at least two members- Rooks and one of the elemental spirits that he can acquire throughout the game. These spirits act in battle the same way as Rooks or his other companions, but they cannot use equipment- which means they are generally poor physical attackers or defenders. However, their magic is much less costly than the ones used by normal characters, and they regenerate automatically with movement. The elemental spirits also have he ability to change the elemental properties of the other members of the party, giving them that element's strengths and weaknesses, which is vital to weathering some of the more powerful enemy attacks later in the game. While there are four elemental spirits, only one can be in play at one time. New party members never have any equipment when they join you, but the at least have the courtesy of leaving all of their equipment with you when they leave. None of the companions are dead weight- all of them are strong generalists, and even the ones who give off more of a caster-ish vibe are reasonably good physical attackers and defenders. Rooks has the additional ability to cast spells from elemental cards, which are bought in batches- when the ability is selected, he can choose to use up one, two, or three cards in the casting, which determines the power of the spell.

Arcana is generally more forgiving than other entries in the dungeoncrawler genre. For starters, the game has the mercy of providing an automap. Secondly, while the game automatically ends if any character other than an elemental spirit is brought down in battle, I actually had to be told about this feature by someone else. Encounters don't become individually threatening until the later parts of the game, so the main struggle is against being ground down by the encounters in aggregate. This is a substantial threat, especially as there are dungeons that are far less straightforward than others. The main difficulty posed by boss encounters is the element of surprise. The game often gives little to no warning that a tile will contain a boss, so almost all bosses in the game will come unexpectedly to the first time player. While the bosses are generally manageable, there is a very real danger of encountering them when the player is unaware of that tile's contends and is too depleted to deal with what a particular boss delivers. The game also contains a surprising number of bosses where Rooks is bereft of his other non-spirit party members. One aspect that might rankle some is that it is impossible to go back to previously-cleared dungeons as the game progresses.

The story progression is not especially grand. There is nothing particularly surprising or unique in the writing of the game's plot, but there is nothing that is particularly awful, either, as the story's relative minimalism leaves no room for wall-banging twists or events. The characters are drawn with broad, singular motivations, and there is not much cleverness or even levity to carry the proceedings. The game's story mainly serves as the track that carries the player from one town and dungeon to the next.

Aesthetically, however, the game does stand out. The game's dungeons are not always underground or buildings, but there are areas of forest and canyon the player must traverse. The game carries the card theme far into the design of the game- The characters are displayed as cards in the areas bordering the view area in the interface, and the monsters are presented as though backed on cards in battle, with the border and color of the monster's "card" indicating what, if any, element they are. Bosses have larger and more elaborate borders. Each monster is animated well, and while normal monsters each draw from a generic set of animations for their attacks, bosses each have their own unique animations for attacking, and sometimes even for being damaged. The game's soundtrack is also one which has, unfortunately, fallen through the cracks. As this is a HAL game, the soundtrack was composed by Jun Ishikawa, longtime composer of the Kirby series, and it is easy to tell that, while composed for a more serious tone, the game's music uses much of the instrument set used in the SNES Kirby games- and the pieces produced all work very well with the environments and encounters within the game.

While Arcana is not a spectacular game, that doesn't mean that it isn't worth playing. It's a surprisingly competent first foray into RPGs for a company that was mainly known for cation games prior, and the fairly strong gameplay and excellent soundtrack do well at making up the difference left by a somewhat minimalist and by-the-numbers plot for the genre at that point in time.

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Screenshots:

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