Wednesday, March 30, 2011

3DS - More than just a Gimmick with a Gimmick!

When the first details of the DS first came out, most people I talked to about it thought that a touch screen would just prove to be a "gimmick" and the handheld would fail hard. Well, it didn't. It's almost like Nintendo knew what they were doing! With the DS firmly planted as the top handheld of this generation, Nintendo has decided to step things up by adding a new "gimmick" to the system: 3D. No, I don't mean 3D graphics, I mean 3D! The glasses-and-stuff-popping-out-at-you 3D! It's all the rage with 3DTVs and watching movies in 3D! Will Nintendo prove that it's not just a gimmick, or will the 3DS prove to be this generation's Virtual Boy? If I had to answer now, it won't be going beside it's VB cousin anytime soon.

How it Looks - System: Great, Graphics: Great/Unbelievable
The system itself is very similar to the DS in layout with a few exceptions. First, it has an analog stick. That alone is great, as it makes controlling in a 3D environment that much better (Super Mario 64 DS would have killed for this). The best part is that it still works for DS games. Don't get too excited though: it acts like the D-Pad, so the controls don't smooth themselves out. It does feel more comfortable to use then the D-Pad though. Second, it has a "Home" button like the Wii does, which allows you to go back to the main menu. This was lacking on the DS as well (until the DSi gave us the reset function on the power button), and a great addition. It also allows you to use some of the apps (notepad, internet, etc) without having to shut down the game, which is also great. Third, the top screen is bigger than the DS's screen, which pushes it a bit closer to a Widescreen ratio. It's another nice touch, though not many people will truly notice it.
The graphics are the main focus of the system though. First, there's the improved graphics itself. It's capable of pushing out near-Wii quality graphics, which is great for a handheld. Obviously nothing has taken the engine to its extreme yet, but there is a lot more potential here than there was in the DS. However, this is completely overshadowed by the 3D aspect of the system. Yes, it does deliver 3D images without glasses. It does a great job at this too. Though it takes a bit to get adjusted to it at first, once you get in the "bubble", it's amazing to see. Even just the system setup's 3D test amazed me when I saw it. Depending on how the games use it, the 3D could be a great asset to developers in making very immersible games. There are some problems with the graphics however. First, the pictures still look terribly pixelated, like the photos taken with the DSi/DSi XL. They're just in 3D now. Second, because the 3DS uses a better screen ratio than the DS, when stretching the view of DS games there's some added pixelation and artifacting (picture quality around edges and moving parts drops and becomes slightly more pixelated). Most may not notice it, but if you've played a game for a while on the DS, then start playing it on the 3DS, you'll notice a difference.

How it Sounds: Good
An improvement over the DS speakers, but not by leaps and bounds. They're stronger and able to make higher quality sound, but there in the same position, and the quality is still lacking compared to the PSP.

How it Feels: Great
There's a slight adjustment to the addition of the analog stick and movement of the Start and Select buttons, but otherwise it'll feel like the same DS controls you're used to, which is a great asset. Familiarity in the controls will make it easier for most to transition into the new handheld. There's a reason PlayStation and Xbox controls haven't changed much since their first systems' launched. The biggest thing will be adjusting to how the gyroscope and 3D add to the game. The pack-in game "Face Raiders" uses the gyroscope, forcing you to turn around to shoot all the faces in the level, instead of using the arrows/analog stick to turn. Other games will be using this functionality to keep you moving and doing stuff, which ties into the Wii's philosophy, but may become a turn-off in smaller or cramped environments. The 3D itself can be adjusted to suit the game and gamer with a handy slider on the side of the top screen. It can also be turned off if desired (or the gamer can't see the 3D).

How it Plays: Fantastic!
While the majority of the games I have tried are just DS games with prettier graphics and 3D (except for "Face Raiders"), that's not necessarily a bad thing. With the limitless potential of the touch screen still barely tapped, there's a lot of possible gameplay still to be created. With the analog stick and gyroscope added as well, controls have gotten more fluid, and even more possibilities and freedoms have been opened up. As well, the 3DS adds the StreetPass functionality, which allows the 3DS to pass data along to other people's systems as you pass by, as long as the system's turned on. This gives the games even more to add onto gameplay: you can share Miis (they make a return on the 3DS), share friend codes (there's only one needed now - the system has a friend code, and every game just accesses that one code), share stats for games, trade info, even have a battle or two, just to name some examples. Of course, the launch titles are a very mixed bag, from rehashes (Super Street Fighter IV and Rayman 3D being remakes that add in 3D) to non-gamer games (Nintendogs & Cats, the Sims 3) to disappointment (sadly, Pilotwings Resort didn't do anything for me, and I had fond memories of the first Pilotwings game), but there's a lot of potential here.

Battery Length: 3-5 hours!
Here's the bad news: the battery sucks. With max brightness and the 3D slider set to full, you'll barely top 3 hours of continuous gameplay on a full charge. You can stretch it to 5 by turning brightness down to minimum and 3D off, but that'd defeat the purpose of the system. The StreetPass also requires the system to be on as well (though in a slightly more active Sleep Mode, which still eats the battery faster than the DS' sleep mode), and it has a 15-20 hour battery life if left on sleep mode the entire time. Yeah, it's going to suck if you can't keep this plugged in the majority of your playtime.

Verdict: Buy!
While there's not much available for it yet (disappointing launch list, no internet browser yet), the potential for the system, a number of great games announced to come out later this year (new Mario, Paper Mario, and Kingdom Hearts games on the way, as well as Star Fox 64 and Zelda: Ocarina of Time remakes), 3D Video streaming coming later this year, and still plays the entire back catalog of DS games makes this a great buy. Not only that, it takes 3D pictures. How sweet is that?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Final Fantasy XIII - More linear than a straight line

So, with the release of Final Fantasy XIII, the perennial Square Enix franchise finally comes to the PlayStation 3 and the... Xbox 360? Despite sneaking onto a non-Sony console, the game garnered a lot of attention due to its long development time. When it finally hit consoles, it looked like it still needed time to cool.

How it Looks: Fantastic!
It wouldn't be a true Final Fantasy game without great visuals, and XIII has it in spades. The in-game engine makes most other games' cut scenes seem tame in comparison, and the cut scenes make even Pixar jealous. Characters, both main and minor, are heavily detailed. Monsters look and move very fluidly. Landscapes are just as gorgeous, being able to see far into backdrops and other outer-lying areas. Unlike past Final Fantasies (excluding the two MMOs and XII), there's no difference between the graphics of the characters, monsters, and environments during regular play and during battles, which lessens the disconnect between battles and roaming.

How it Sounds: Great
With a futuristic setting such as Cocoon, the music for most of the game fits. There are some great tracks to listen to (I find myself listening to Snow's Theme and the battle theme, Blinded by Light, a fair bit outside of gameplay), but mostly they're average, and nothing much will stick in your head outside of gameplay. The tracks do suit their location and situation though, so nothing really to complain about. The voice acting is a bit hit or miss at first, but settles in about a quarter of the way through and really shines. Even poorly voiced characters like Vanille (which really sounds grating during the first four chapters) gets better as the game goes on.

How it Feels: Fluid
Controls are solid, especially in combat. There are very few multi-button combinations in combat, which is great in a fast-paced combat system like this. However, it takes a bit to get familiar with what each button does in order to master the combat system. There's R1 for seeing enemy stats, Triangle stops the gauge and forces action, Circle cancels attacks, L1 switches Stances... not many RPGs use a lot of buttons other than Confirm, Cancel, and D-Pad, so it takes a bit of adjusting, but once you do, it'll feel second nature.

How it Plays: Flat/Boring
Here's the game's major flaw: it is linear. I don't mean "there aren't many sidequests along the way to distract you" linear, I mean "here is a narrow corridor, followed by a narrow corridor, followed by a, you guessed it, narrow corridor" linear. There is absolutely no off-paths that aren't just for a chest in the first 10 chapters of the game. At any time, you have one way to go, and while the game shows you where you need to go, there's really no reason for the most part; there is usually only one pathway to go. Not only that, but the story forces the party into a state of solitude almost right at the get-go, so there's nobody to talk to either. Stores are accessed through save points only, so there's not even any interaction there. Things open up once you get into the 11th chapter, with more areas to explore and (finally) some sidequesting, but it'll take a lot of perseverance to get that far. The only bright spot in the game is the combat, which is great, because you'll be doing a lot of it. It's fast and fresh, which is a great change of pace. Each character gains 2 or 3 different Paradigm Stances which gives them different abilities. The basic RPG classes are here: healer, mage, brawler, and tank are all here, plus a status-inflicting class and a stagger-setup class. Staggering enemies is a great way of finishing them off fast (and the easiest way to beat most bosses): each enemy has a stagger gauge, which fills up as it gets hit. The higher the gauge, the more damage it takes. Once it gets filled, you can deal massive damage with even basic attacks, pretty much destroying the enemy in seconds. At most you can have a party of 3, but you only control one person (the leader), the rest are AI-controlled. However, when the leader dies, it's game over, even if the other two are perfectly fine, which can be a nuisance in hard fights or with multiple enemies that go straight for the leader.

Game Length: 50+ Hours
A lengthy story, over 50 monster targets to take down in chapter 11, and some pretty ridiculous trophies/achievements to get (getting one of every item requires hours upon hours of farming for money that's hard to get), Final Fantasy XIII has a lot of possible playtime to put into it. However, with very few choices to make, and characters that have little to no customization to them, it's more of whether you'd want to.

Verdict: Bargain Bin!
By no means is it a bad game, but there's just not much flexibility in the game to justify a full-price purchase unless you're a big fan of the series. Even then, there's a fair amount of change to the game that doesn't make it feel like a part of the series. Of course, since this review is only 10 months late, it's already down to a reasonable price. I'd say give it a try, but don't expect a great spectacle like the series' predecessors.

The Return!

It's been a long while since something has been posted on From the Bottom Up. However, as time serves me, I'll try to revive at least the review portion of the site, with both new games and some I would have reviewed had the site been updating regularly.

Glad to be back!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Final Fantasy XII - The only one you'll ever need

With a development time of almost five years and numerous delays, Final Fantasy XII proves that perfection takes time. While I'm not saying this title is perfect (nothing is), this is probably the best game in the franchise. Be warned, as this review is rather lengthy. I apologise in advance.

How it Looks: Fantastic!
As with every Final Fantasy, the graphics are top notch. Everything from the detailed buildings to the amazing effects of magic and abilities, down to the highly detailed character models, are absolutely gorgeous. While most of it is a bleak brown or grey colour, it fits the storytelling style and locale of the game. The game also runs very smoothly, even with a vast amount of people on the screen. I have yet to see slowdown while running through a city, even with 20-30 people walking around, talking to each other, and with ever-changing bubbles that appear over the ones you can talk to. The only downside is that the areas are so largely detailed that loading from area to area takes about 2-5 seconds, depending on the size.

How it Sounds: Great
The Final Fantasy series is known for its grande musical scores and XII doesn't disappoint. With a more gritty feel in most of the combat scenes and a nice, melodic feel in most of the free cities, the music is very much in tune with the story and locale. Nothing seems out of place, and while there's not a particular song that will stick with you after you power down the system, none of them are unpleasant to hear. Neither are the voice overs for the characters. While it seems a little mechanical at first, the voice overs get much better quickly as the game progresses, and while there are a couple of voices that don't sound like they'd suit the person who's speaking it, overall they're nicely done. Charisma is definitely in each voice, so we don't get any pissed off people standing there saying "I am angry!" in a monotone voice (looking at you Yuna!*).

How it Feels: Great
Square Enix did a great job making sure everything you need to control is simple to access: every command that can be activated from the controller is done so with a push of a button or a tilt of one of the analog sticks. While character movement is only designated to the left analog stick, by now most people should be used to that in games by now. The camera controls have been pushed to the right analog stick, and it provides the only flaw in the controls: they seem reversed compared to the movement, so moving the stick left will rotate the camera right, and so on, and it can't be changed. In fact, you better get used to the controls in the game, because you can't change any of them, and as I said while reviewing Xenosaga III, in this day and age it is unacceptable.

How it Plays: Excellent!
While it may seem a radical departure from the series, underneath the presentation the game plays very similar to past Final Fantasy games. Every battle is done in pseudo-realtime, so there are no random encounters, and most of the menu-work is very limited during non-boss fights. However, battles are still in ATB (or Active Time Battle) format, so you must wait for a gauge to fill up in order to execute a selected move. However, you don't have to mash attack, for once you've attacked a monster once, your character will keep attacking it until it dies, and will resume attacking after a different action is taken. With so much action happening at once, there's the Gambit system to help manage every character. Sort of a simple AI programming system, gambits allow you to have your characters do actions based on certain battle situations: character at 40% health, have your healer cast Cure on him/her; otherwise attack. Each gambit also has a weight, so if situation one arises and your character is acting based on situation two, it'll stop action and act based on the first gambit situation. Also changing is the level-up system. While you do get experience for killing enemies and levelling up based on that, it only raises your HP, Mana, and maybe a stat here or there. For each defeated monster, you also get Licence points (LP), which allow you to unlock licenses. Think of licenses as in real life: you can't cast a particular spell or wield a specific weapon without the proper license, and unlocking it on the license board allows you to use it. But unlocking a spell doesn't do much unless you have it, so you also have to hunt down those spells and weapons. A few squares on the license board are labelled Quickenings, and they are the limit breaks of the game. Quickenings are super-strong abilities that can deal massive damage to one or many enemies. They can also be chained, so if you have another character in battle with a quickening available, you can activate his/her quickening and chain them together. There's a timer counting down when you activate one, and as long as the timer isn't at zero, you can chain another quickening onto it, even if they don't have the mana for it (though if they do, it's used up)! Quickenings can only be used if you have the correct amount of mana bars open, and unlocking a new Quickening will add another mana bar, which essentially doubles/triples your original mana (to a max of three mana bars). Also changed are the summons. All of them must be defeated in battle (though there are a handful you must fight to progress story anyways), and must be given to a specific character, who will be the only person who can summon it. This can also increase mana bars, depending on the strength of the summon. Once summoned (and you'll need the required amount of full mana bars to summon one), it will replace the remaining party members and attack surrounding monsters for a set period of time, eventually leading up to its ultimate attack. Almost all of the summons are from the Tactics games, though a couple hidden ones are drawn from Final Fantasy's past.

Game Length: 60+ Hours
With a long story, a large License board to unlock for each character, a dozen or so summons, optional areas and quests, and giant Marks (creatures you're hired to go kill) that can take as long as an hour or two to kill, there's a ton here to do. And because your characters are determined by the licenses you give them, you can go through the game with totally different characters each time.

Verdict: Buy!
This is the definitive Final Fantasy. If you enjoy the series, you should own it by now. Even if you haven't enjoyed a game in the series, but like RPGs and a great story, pick this game up. I'll even go out on a limb and say that this game is not only the best game in the series, but probably the best RPG on the PlayStation 2.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Wii finally get our Wii!

After two years of guesswork and a large year of news, Nintendo's revolutionary system finally comes to our shores, and their idea of gameplay and innovation over graphics and cutting-edge technology may win the hearts of non-gamers, but it will surprise hardcore gamers with its enjoyability.

How it Looks - System: Incredible, Graphics: Decent/Good
The system is an interesting design: probably the first assymetric system I've seen. It looks like a square, but with it's back corner pulled down and out. It is the smallest of the next-gen consoles, being a similar size to three DVD cases in height. While Nintendo does plan on making other colours, only White is available at launch, which matches our DS Lites just fine. The look of the controller also mimics the buttons of the DS Lite, but that's more due to the fact that the DS Lite's buttons were made to mimic the Wii.
Graphically, however, is where the Wii is lacking. I'm not going to say that the Wii's graphics look terrible; they're great, but they don't match up to what the PS3 and the Xbox 360 can pump out. There's no option for HD output either, which fits Nintendo's goal of gameplay over graphics.

How it Sounds: Good
The sounds of the game depend on the game and television you're using, but the neat thing about the Wii is the speaker in the Wiimote itself. It was used mainly for effects generated from actions, like punching in Wii Sports: Boxing or slashing in Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, but it added to the experience.

How it Feels: Amazing!!
The big thing about the Nintendo Wii is the controller. Most games us the Wiimote, which looks like a television remote with only a few buttons, and a plug-in adapter known as a nunchuck, with a joystick and two more buttons. Each one fits in one hand very comfortably, so your hands aren't cramped or sore after a long play session. The Wiimote is pretty sensitive, but I've been told that you can change its sensitivity. Each game uses the controllers differently, so there's no true way to say how each game will feel for you. Some use the Wiimote and not the nunchuck, some use the Wiimote sideways, some use them for punching, throwing, etc., and each one feels comfortable. The only problem with this kind of free-moving control is that you must give a lot of space to everybody who's playing. When testing out Wii Sports: Baseball, I was pitching and the other player was batting, and when he swung the Wiimote, it clocked me in the elbow. If anything, it's durable!

How it Plays: Enjoyable
None of the small amount of games I played were frustrating to control. Each one was controlled with simple movements, which were mimicked on screen by what I was controlling very closely. With Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz, you control the level, which will tilt based on how the Wiimote is tilted exactly, so a small movement will only tilt it a little bit. In Wii Sports: Boxing, shooting your right hand out with a wide punch will have your boxer do a wide hook on the opposing boxer. This setup of controls allows for variable gameplay for every game made for it. If you want to, it is also able to play any GameCube game you may have, and with the Virtual Console available, you can download games from the Nintendo Vaults, from such systems as the NES, SNES, N64, Sega Genesis and TurboGraphix 16. Add in weather finder, buyable internet browser and photo manager and you have yourself a well-rounded gaming machine the whole family could use. Due note that some of the Virtual Console games require the Classic Controller, which looks like a SNES controller, but with two analog joysticks on it.

Verdict: Buy!
It may not have the prettiest graphics, but it sure as hell a lot of fun to play. The intent of attracting non-gamers to a video game console, and the system's interesting control scheme seem to spell success for Nintendo this time. With a cheaper price point than the Xbox 360 and PS3, it is sure to be a hit this holiday season, and beyond.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Mortal Kombat: Armageddon: More like Deception+

With the end of the latest console generation looming, Midway decides they're going to go out with the perverbial "bang" with their seventh entry into the Mortal Kombat franchise: Armageddon. Unfortunately, it feels more like a toned-down expansion to its predecessor Deception than a full-fledged game.

How it Looks: Mediocre
The game is done in 3D, as every game since Mortal Kombat 4, and while it doesn't look terrible, it's not new: the graphics use a similar engine, if not the same one, as Deception. Most models and almost every animation from Deception are reused here in Armageddon: If a character loses a round on his stomach, he/she/it will get up the same way as every other character. Recycling isn't limited to characters: half of the arenas are from Deception and Deadly Alliances (Deception's predecessor). The remainder are 3D remakes from the series' past: the Subway from MK3 makes a return, complete with trains as deathtraps. So if you're looking for cutting-edge visuals while fighting, look elsewhere. On the plus side though, there is not a single character that looks like another one, one of the problems of sprite-based graphics. For example, Ultimate MK3 had Sub-Zero, Scorpion, Rain, Ermac AND Noob Saibot use the same sprites, just recoloured and called "new." In Armageddon, all of these characters are in the game and look completely different.

How it Sounds: Annoying/Mediocre
The ambient music in the game is about the only good thing about the sound in Armageddon, as it sets the mood of the battle very well. Other than that, you may want to turn off the sound. Every character grunts, shouts, screams, groans, and roars when they attack, get hit, or jump, and none of it is in any sort of recognisable language, and none of it sounds any good. Sound effects are generally unnoticeable, though, and easily blend in with the background music. The only redeeming thing about the sound is the voice acting in the Konquest mode: it actually has some timing between characters talking! In Deception, when one character finished talking and another would start, there would be no pause in between. In Armageddon, it now sounds like a natural conversation between two or more people. The quality is spotty, but at least it isn't terrible to listen to.

How it Feels: Comfortable
The controls haven't changed at all from Deception: Each basic attack is mapped to one of the four face buttons, and combos are easily made by mashing those buttons. Special attacks are easy to pull off, as they take two directional pushes, then a face button. In fact, all the combos and special attacks are viewable during the fight in the pause menu, so no needless memorisation is needed. Blocking is easily executed with R2 (a parry is done by pusing Back and R2, which is a block that stuns the character if timed correctly), throwing R1, and changing fighting styles done with L1. The only qualm I have is that during fights, the arrow buttons and the left analog stick control movement, though during Konquest mode's non-fighting sequences, only the left analog stick moves the player.

How it Plays: Average
One of the main draws of Armageddon is that any player can win a fight at any given time. This is shown with deathtraps in each area: a red line denotes that hitting a player past that line or adjacent to the line (if you can't go past it) with an attack that lifts them off the ground (like an uppercut), that player will die in a gruesome (but sometimes funny) death sequence and you automatically win. This essentially sums up the gameplay in Armageddon: chaotic. While a seasoned veteran of Mortal Kombat will feel right at home with this game, any player has a chance (even if it's a very small one) of winning a fight. Another main draw is the fact that every character that appeared in a Mortal Kombat game is playable: from the famous characters like Sub-Zero and Liu Kang to the very obscure ones like Rain and Meat to the bosses of previous games like Kintaro and even Onaga. Each one has different strengths and weaknesses, but they mostly feel the same, thanks to the Kreate-a-Fatality system introduced. Instead of pulling off a complicated fatality, you imput much simpiler commands to do smaller bits of a fatality chain, then you can end it with ripping out the spine, or crushing their head. If you take too long between imputs the time runs out and you don't get to do a cool ending. The problem with the fighting mode, however, is that it feels exactly the same as Deception, and while that isn't a bad game, it's not fair to ask gamers to shell out 50 bucks for an updated roster an not much new in terms of gameplay. Alternate modes are the Konquest mode, which feels like MK: Shaolin Monks, a 3D beat-em-up game, but with arcade fighting bits; and Motor Kombat, which is Mario Kart with deathtraps and MK characters.

Game Length: 5+ hours (Konquest mode)
All the modes have unlimited playability, with no ending to them. With 62 characters, there are 62 different endings to read (no graphics, just text and a kata being played out), and with both the arcade fighting and Motor Kombat playable online, there is a lot of replayability..... if you don't mind repetitive gameplay.

Verdict: Bargain Bin
Don't get me wrong: the game isn't bad. It isn't the be-all and end-all of fighting games, but it's a nice pick up and play title to get with your friends. However, if you are wanting a strong fighting game, or if you've played and/or owned Deception and are looking for fresh gameplay, look elsewhere.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Disgaea 2: Sophomore Memories Cursed?

Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories arrives on the PlayStation 2, bringing with it the crazy antics of the original Disgaea, plus a new cast, new story, and new craziness. Now if only the game was so fresh.

How it Looks: Fair
Compared to most games on the PS2, the game falls flat in the visuals, as it sticks true to its roots and continues with the 2D sprites, with 3D modeled maps. The backdrop is usually just some solid colour or blend of colours, sometimes with stars or a sky, or something to that effect. While they are still 2D sprites, they do have very nice, fluent animations, with a lot of subtleties, like flowing hair when they move, or fluttering dresses, etc. There are a lot more animations for each character than in the first game, which was already pretty decent, and with a lot more models, this makes the game feel very fluid visually. However, with the power of the PS2 at their disposal, and with almost every other game using 3D characters, NIS could have improved the graphics to reach the times.

How it Sounds: Good/Annoying
The musical score in Disgaea 2 is rather nice, with a couple of songs returning for a second go, like the intro screen and the hospital menu. The rest are new, and while none of them will stick in your head when the power is turned off, they are at least pleasant enough to listen to while playing. The voice overs are also done very well, keeping the humour in tack with decent pacing (though the main character does sound somewhat flat and emotionless at times). The Prinnies' voices are a bit of a disappointment, since they were perfect in Disgaea, and they went and changed them for this game. They are somewhat high-pitched and a strain to listen to. The sound effects department really suffers, though. Some of the recurring sounds are pretty annoying, especially some of the character's jumping sounds. Every time you pick someone up or jump up to a panel that is higher than the character, there is a grunt or scream or something, and they aren't the most pleasant thing in the world. The Geo Combo (more later) sound effects are equally poor, taking away the more natural explosion sound and replacing it with a sort of "squish" sound.

How it Feels: Comfortable
The controls are unchanged from Disgaea from what I have played with. If you've never played the game before, there is a slight getting used to, but it is easily transformed into a groove when you get going (Naturally, I started playing this game after Xenosaga III, and, well, I had to add a 5 minute learning curve to the controls, even though I've spent over 100 hours on the first game!).

How it Plays: Fun/Boring
Contradictions in the most important part of the review isn't a good sign, is it?
To those who haven't played the game, it has a "cult" following for a reason (reviewers and writers throw that word around a lot. Essentially, a small group of people like the game a lot): It is a strategy RPG, where you take control of a group of people and play it out in turn-based, tile-based, tactical fights. That's all there is to the game: Fight through the story, fight through your items to level them up, or fight through the unlockable optional levels. Needless to say, you do a lot of fighting, and although the battle system is fairly easy to pick up, it is a difficult thing to master. Essentially, it is turn-based, but unlike the famous "Final Fantasy Tactics" style, your team goes first, then the opposing team goes, and so on. That is always the order; not once do your opponents start a fight going first. You can have up to 10 units on the field at a time, and you can move them and act with them in a turn. Once they move and attack, they can't be commanded for the rest of your turn, but if they've only moved, they can still act, and if they've only acted, they can still move. Better yet, if they've only moved, their move can be cancelled and moved again, as long as the spot they started in is empty. The big thing in this game is that you can pick up a unit on the field and throw it. This includes friends and foes. Another returning mechanic are geo panels. They are coloured squares on the grid, that when a geo pyramid is tossed on top of it, every panel of that colour gets the effect of the pyramid. Some are good (ex: increasing Attack by 50%), while some are bad (ex: Destroy the unit if they are attacked)! Also, if the pyramid is a different colour than the panel, attacking the pyramid will change each panel it was affecting to the colour of the pyramid, and if there are more pyramids hit by this wave, it creates a Geo Chain, possibly wiping out your enemies (or allies if you're not careful), and raising the bonus gauge like mad!
A new addition to the pickup mechanic is that you can have a stack of people and have the person at the base attack a unit beside them, and the whole stack will attack that person. It looks cool if anything else. Also new is the dark court, which will send subpoenas to your characters if they've leveled up too fast, or have too many abilities, etc. These can add bonuses to your characters (they are demons after all), or penalties, though I haven't been penalized by the court.
To those who have played through Disgaea at least through the story, it's the same game with a different set of characters, the two new additions, and a lot more Geo Effects (like sudden death, or death if damaged on that panel). If you really like it, you'll love it. But if you're looking for a new experience, you'll be disappointed.

Game Length: 100+ hours
Since there are 30-100 levels inside EACH item you can obtain (legendary and rare items have 100, rest have 30 as far as I know), about 4-5 unlockable areas, and the ability to get to level 9999 with any character, then reset their level to 1 in a new class and keep most of their abilities, the game can seem to go on forever. However, since it's mostly just the fighting, you must really like the game to go that far into the game.

Verdict: Split
People who have never played Disgaea: Buy!
While not the easiest game to master, Disgaea 2 is a very strong Strategy RPG that any RPG fan should have in their collection. Whether it's the unusual battle abilities, the zany characters and storyline, or the fact that being guilty gives bonuses will keep you interested for a while.
People who have played Disgaea: Depends
If you were a person who played Disgaea for as long as I can and still can't keep the controller down, this is the next best thing. It's a must for those fans. However, if you've played your fill of Disgaea, the second one will not provide anything new if you're looking for something. Though it is nice to return to a game and play through some new content.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Mega Man ZX: How many Mega Man games is this now?

The first new Mega Man game on the Nintendo DS is Mega Man ZX, a game that will feel somewhat familiar to those who played the X games for SNES/PlayStation (the 2D ones), and those who played through the Zero games for the GBA.

How it Looks: Good
While it won't win any awards for its graphics, the game does look very good, with smooth animations and no hiccups whatsoever. Dual and sometimes even Triple scrolling backgrounds are present in every level, showing off what the DS can do with sprite-based games. There is no 3D graphics anywhere in this game, as the developers kept the same 2D look that has made the Mega Man series a household name.

How it Sounds: Good
The music in the game is typical Mega Man fare: Nice rock music that just fits in the place it is. The soundtrack in general isn't as loud as some previous scores (the classic Mega Man X score is still the best Mega Man soundtrack to date, and in my opinion one of the best ever! I can still remember the beat to the opening level, and as I write this, I'm humming that tune horribly off-key!), but it's still very good. There are very few moments where there are voice overs, but those are all done in japanese, but so far I've only encountered one use of it. The sound effects, though, are top notch, with exception to timing: the main character's yell is heard every time he shoots and slashes the Z-Saber. While rapid fire and swinging aren't prevailent much, the one form I like to stay in is quick-fire: attacks quickly and uses projectiles. To this effect, the main character yells a lot, and can get annoying very fast. That is the only problem so far in the sound of the game.

How it Feels: Excellent!
Controls are very intuitive and make use of every button (except for select so far). The Y and R buttons are attacks (Y is main, and R is secondary), L is for dashing (though pushing a direction key twice rapidly will dash as well), B jumps, X brings up a ring menu to change your suit, A puts you in overdrive (more on that later), and Start accesses the menu, where you can also switch suits, refuel using sub tanks, and check your map and mission log. The touch screen isn't used for controls at all, so the hands stay on the buttons at all times to keep the Mega Man feel of the game. Everything is quick, and it has to be: the action is fast, and mistakes cost lives, which leads to...

How it Plays: Fun!
Gameplay is simple: kill minor robots in a level to get to the midboss, then kill more minor robots to get to the big boss, then beat him and get his power. Same formula for every Mega Man game, and the same can be sa— oh, wait. They changed the Mega Man formula! How ludacris! How outrageous!
How... refreshing! While it hasn't changed much, you take on a human character this time around (you get to choose male or female), who is chosen by the X model Biometal. Biometal allows humans to get some robotic assistance. The X model, for instance, turns our hero into X from the Mega Man X series, with dash and charge shot included. Eventually, you get the Z model, and the X and Z model fuse to get the titular Biometal, the ZX model. This turns you into Zero from Mega Man Zero fame, with a weak buster and a strong Saber. There is a map, which connects each level with a couple of starting areas and a city. There are save points scattered throughout the zones, with some connected to a transporter for easy reach, since the map is fairly large. The main goal is overtaking missions (most of which means facing mavericks and regaining Biometal from them). The main missions yield new Biometal that fuse with the X model. Each model has a different play style with it: HX allows you to dash in the air (even up!), one allows you better movement in the water, one can destroy big blocks and melt ice, and one allows you to cling to roofs and ledges while throwing projectiles. Each one also makes use of the bottom screen in different ways: The ZX mode doesn't use it for anything however, HX shows the health of the last enemy you attacked, FX allows you to plot the course of its bullets (though how is unknown to me... maybe in the manual I haven't read?), LX shows a layout of the surrounding area and has a homing dot that moves to any item in the screen, and the PX shows a smaller version of the LX area map, but does show where enemies and secret passageways are.
Besides those changes, its straight Mega Man action: shoot stuff, jump over pits (bottomless or spike-filled), shoot more stuff, shoot bosses, shoot more stuff. Just be sure to save often, as you can die almost anywhere if you're not careful.

Game Length: 10-20 Hours (aproximation)
If you just complete the main missions, it will be over in 8-10 hours (less if you're on easy mode and/or are a Mega Man veteran), but factor in some optional missions, some minigames, and a normal (hard) difficulty, and you've got yourself some playing time. Unfortunately, this is a solo campagn, so no multiplayer.

Verdict: Buy!
If you are a Mega Man fan, you'd be nuts to pass this up, as it is the same tried-and-true formula, only evolved. Plus who doesn't love some platforming with large guns. If you aren't a Mega Man fan, this is definitely a game to try out, as it is a basic platformer that tests your quickness with the controller more than your brainpower. When the only downside to the game is finding where to go (and that isn't so bad in the age of walkthroughs), you know you've got a hit on your hands.