Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Another post Bound for failure.

I bought Earthbound for the 3DS Virtual Console the very day it was made available. I've wanted to play it ever since Nintendo Power featured that whole "Because This Game Stinks!" campaign that no one liked, except for me, because my opinions are commonly unpopular, which results in me being unpopular.
A combination of awful-smelling scratch and sniff images that I kept re-smelling, because... well, I'm not sure anymore, but it was either that I thought they would smell better the next time, or because I felt the urge to remind myself why it was a bad idea the last time I did it. I know it's one of those two reasons, but which one? Also, there were these wonderful, detailed clay models of several characters, which I loved to look at from a distance, on TV, in a magazine, on the computer screen, and anywhere else that wasn't actually near me, because inanimate shit with eyes and facial expressions creep me out.
Beware the trees, Ness. 
It was 1995, however, and I never had any money to spend. Ten years later, I still had no money to spend. A real shame about that. Thinking of now-rare items, like a physical copy of Earthbound, that I could have owned if I wasn't broke, though most kids tend to be. A real shame about my collection of Nintendo Power magazines, too. I'll likely die regretting I didn't take a picture of the whole collection for a background design, since the thought didn't occur to me until I was nearly finished tossing them out in small quantities each week due to their weight. That's why I threw them away to begin with. A bunch of heavy boxes taking up a considerable amount of space, and all they have are issues of Game Informer, Gamepro, Visions, Nintendo Power, and third-party help guides, like this one that featured generic cartoon characters (a big-headed midget thing, a car, a dinosaur) dodging bubbles. Bubbles. I don't know why. "We need drawings of whatever to decorate the empty space of every page, instead of adding more helpful information. Bubbles are deadly in a lot of games, they are quick and easy to doodle, and we're way too cheap to pay somebody to provide anything detailed and eye-catching, like, say, something else entirely." Then again, what should I have expected? I got it at a book fair at Melaleuca Elementary School. I still kept most of my player guides, as opposed to the magazines, because of whatever reason that my current brain cannot comprehend, but I bet I threw that one out. It caught my child's eye, so, obviously, I'm going to waste the money my parents gave me on that, because I was a kid, and kids are stupid. ALL kids are stupid. I'm still kinda stupid, so, maybe, continuing to be stupid is like eternal youth. Stay young. Eat glue.

Earthbound was a flop in the mid-90s, and it's not hard to figure out why. The game looked like shit when up against the visual gems of Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy III (FF6). The downgrade in appearance was intentional to keep the art style consistent with the original, but the problem is Mother never had a US release, so many knew nothing about the reasoning behind Earthbound's 8-bit adventure on a 16-bit console. You might remember the tremendous focus on graphics at the time, too. Something fun HAD to look amazing. It was like a video game law or something back then. Then, there's the cost of bundling each copy of Earthbound with a player's guide, and that aggressive two-million-dollar ad campaign. Like I mentioned before, I thought it was neat, and I'm sure there were others who felt the same, but the American market wasn't interested in Japanese RPGs until FF7 popularized the genre. Daring gamers not to pick up a copy was definitely the wrong way to promote this particular title. Now that everyone loves Earthbound (because many probably assumed Ness originated on Super Smash Bros.), Nintendo has performed an opposite fuck-up by refusing to release Mother 3 outside of Japan. Maybe that'll change in the near future. Still, Nintendo must really hate easy profit. Me, too, I suppose. I could be cluttering this blog with some cheap advertisement.

Considering the amount of effort put into the music, if Nintendo was going to bundle the game with anything, they really should have gone with the soundtrack. The full playlist is over three hours long, so, obviously, somebody would need to cherry-pick about a dozen or so tracks (though I bet a bunch of you greedy bastards would expect them all for free), but this would have still highlighted one of Earthbound's best features. Besides, the player's guide was an easy sale during the 4th generation of video games. If not that, then offering it as the freebie for a Nintendo Power subscription renewal might have sparked some curiosity.

Having recently finished Earthbound, I find the game difficult to recommend. The environments are cheerful; the NPCs provide humorous, fourth-wall-breaking responses; enemies are as goofy as they are varied; boss fights are challenging even though they are just as susceptible to status effects as Ness and his friends; the ending is not only amazing, but is practically guaranteed to make the player emotional; the odometer life bars and the guts stat that affects them is unique and keeps the player attentive during turn-based combat; Iwata, Iwata, Iwata; and, again, the music successfully brings it all together. "So why would you..." Shut up. I'm still typing. My beef is with the mechanics and how they sour every other enjoyable moment with exception to the last. I'm complaining about the grinding, the difficulty spikes, the limited space for inventory, sluggish travel (even teleporting can be a bitch), the constant drain on my psychic points to remove status effects from an unending slew of respawns, and the slow, cumbersome menu screens I had to deal with in order to organize, equip, and supply my party members for far longer than it should ever take to get back into the action. The only reason I can't gripe about the confusing "Now what?" portions of this game is thanks to the included guide provided physically for the original and digitally with the Wii U version. There's also the internet and its wealth of information (and porn) at my disposal. That practically excuses every developer from having to assist the player with progression, doesn't it?

I'd type that one would find just as much pleasure in watching a silent playthrough online, but thanks to a particular this and a specific that, I very much believe it is worth your time, money, and hassle to experience this for yourself. I only wish I could have enjoyed it twenty years earlier. The impact it must have had on the player at that time is something I can only imagine thanks to the efforts of inspired titles, like that of Undertale and Citizens of Earth. Both do justice to their predecessor, and both deserve the opportunity to further increase the size of this post, because the regulars who follow this blog (which consists of only me... unless I also count myself) would never expect otherwise. It doesn't matter either way, but I'll go ahead and start with Undertale, since that hype train has finally slowed down and the game is probably safe to type about again.
I was told to play Undertale by a co-worker, a co-worker's daughter, through several Youtube video recommendations, and by some guy on the sales floor who overheard my conversation about it with Paul and interrupted us with a fairly loud, "It's fucking awesome!" Having finally played it for myself, the sentiment is well understood, or relatively understood. See, I may have spotted several examples of genius detail work, but I still missed half (if not more) of them. It's not until after one has played through the entirety of the story, and/or watched it on Youtube, then further researched it on various sites (like I was doing for the sake of this blog entry), that you begin to realize the actual scope of effort put into this game. And it's for ten dollars! I just wish I could discuss it more, but, as many have said before, you have to go into it blind. If you're a fan of RPGs, then play it.

I will point out one thing. Undertale is not a pretty game to look at (most of the time). At first, I figured it was because of the small budget, the size of the development "teiam", and a lack of experience. (Other than this game, I only know of his Halloween hack of Earthbound, and the man has expressed dissatisfaction with how that turned out.) Again, it wasn't until I was in the middle of typing this that I made the possible connection of it mimicking the decision behind Earthbound's appearance. My only supporting logic on the matter is Dust: An Elysian Tail, another one-man job with a similar budget that looks astounding by comparison. It's hard to imagine so much would already be put into this game, yet Fox just decided to settle for a crude and unappealing presentation without good reason.

I feel somewhat uneasy about stating this, but I believe Undertale is a better game than Chrono Trigger. I know. I know. Blasphemy! Look, Chrono Trigger is the product of money, experience, and talent in large sums. It has everything one would expect of a JRPG from the nineties, and then some. Despite all of this, the one issue some have with the game is that it is composed of nearly every cliché in the genre. On the other hand, it utilized those clichés far better than every other JRPG, AND! it threw some unique and interesting stuff into the mix (the Millennial Fair thingy that I won't discuss further, for example). Square played it safe, and did quite well. Toby decided to be risky with his creativity, and still did quite well. With that in mind, which would you believe is the better game? I'm not asking for a literal answer in the comments. I know it's an opinionated decision. I was just clarifying mine. I still love Chrono Trigger, even if it lacks Katt, Raine Sage, and cold spaghetti.

By the way, Undertale's soundtrack is a must-buy item when getting the game itself. This is especially true with regard to the unique boss themes. Most developers won't put in that added touch of love to their work, yet Mr. Fox does so several times over with his own. The music just happens to be my favorite among them.

As for Citizens of Earth, this Canadian RPG failed to reach its Kickstarter goal by a devastating 64%, and was fortunate enough to have left a strong impression on the people of Atlus. Visually and mechanically, CoE is a far more literal nod to Earthbound with Eden Industries aping the sequel to Mother with several specific references, like that of its Eagle Land world, the protractor and ruler being used for battle, violent hippies, police brutality, and even avoidable or instant-win encounters...
 There's also a Loch Ness monster spotted near a bunch of campers
that your party uses for transportation.
 
You probably notice the influence of Pokemon, as well, such as the number of playable characters one is able to collect, the fact that the VP acts more like a trainer than a party member, and the existence of Eden Industries HQ within the game itself.
Nearly half the playables are female, and I spotted only a single (and fully clothed)
lewd image while researching the game.
I'm not sure if I should be proud of or disappointed with the internet.  
There are forty potential party members to recruit, and not only do they battle differently, each one provides a talent outside of combat (usefulness may vary), and most come with a delightful catch phrase either during a fight, or after leveling up. Unfortunately, many of them won't join you without completing a mini-game or a side quest. The most difficult among these include a sloppy rhythm game and a button-mashing headache over soda. Patient gamers will eventually discover a simple solution to both, but not knowing that ahead of time means frustrating, fun-souring moments, and those are especially terrible to have when one must suffer through numerous loading screens, a vague hint system, noticeable screen tearing (witnessed this most often in the graveyard), and glitches that can and will get your party stuck around obstacles. There's also moments of crashing, but the game saves automatically, so no big deal.

As one would expect, Citizens of Earth thrives on strong, humorous dialogue (supported by fantastical voice acting!), dumb situations, and bizarre enemies. Whomever is on your team during a cutscene will sometimes respond to the conversation in a unique fashion, which I find neat. It's a loving bit of detail, similar to the verbal tics of the Crono Cross crew (except Magus, who was just too complex), but it hardly encourages repeated playthroughs (even with a New Game +). Add to that, I don't believe any of the achievements are missable, so even completionists have no real urge to start over.

Citizens of Earth is looked upon by some as a mere rip-off of Mother 2, which I feel is both harsh and untrue. After all, its development is similar to that of Yooka-Laylee, which blatantly aimed to mimic Banjo-Kazooie, Bloodstained, which blantantly aimed to mimic Castlevania, and Mighty No. 9, which blatantly aimed to mimic Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero. (They even share a favoritism for blue.) All three of these came from developers who were finally free to create whatever they wanted. Anything at all! They all chose to make what people wanted most from them, and if Itoi has no desire to craft another Mother sequel, then there's no reason for the gaming community to insult indie developers willing to do it in his stead. The more, the merrier! Seriously, it's amazing to discover how many games were inspired by Earthbound, despite how few of them are alike as a result. If you're curious, some of the other more notable examples include OFF, Anodyne, and Lisa. I have Anodyne in my Steam library, but I'll likely add Lisa, as well, in the near future.

Hmmm. Maybe I'll update this garbage with more pictures at a later date. It needs more visual aid, don'tcha think? Eh, maybe not. I don't know.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Game Boy Advance Retrospective — Loser’s Picks

Not too long ago, the Game Boy Advance celebrated its 15th anniversary, or should I call it the GBA's 15th birthday? Uh, either way, this only correlates to the release of the thing in North America. By June, Japan, South Korea, and Brazil already had it on their store shelves, so this textual celebration is in honour of GBA's 'Murica birffday, which is, obviously, the most important of the handheld's birffdays, regardless of its actual, original release date! I mean, who really concerns themselves with trivial details like that, amirite? ...probably the same goofs who waste time keeping track of anniversaries that are divisble by five. Typing of which, I went ahead and chose the top five, or, rather, my top five (not already chosen by those at the Damage Control blog) of the GBA line-up, because people either enjoy a good list of somethings that relate to similar interests of their own, or they hate lists primarily because so many other people don't. If it's popular, somebody's going to hate it for being popular. Since this blog is intentionally unpopular, or, at least, intentionally advertised poorly, which, as a result, keeps it unpopular, I have no reason to worry about upsetting folk who might post disparaging comments that would only reiterate personal failings that I've been made aware of since I was a child (thanks, mom and dad), so before I forget what the topic of this blog is about, let's appropriately begin with Mario Luigi and some red guy.
At #5, for no particular reason, Superstar Saga is the first in a series of Mario & Luigi role-playing titles that heavily emphasize a good time over clichéd drama. Centered around a kingdom of beans (yes, beans), Mario and Luigi must retrieve Peach's voice after it is stolen by a bizarre witch and replaced with explosions.
Yes, with Peach's voice in her possession, Cackletta will finally be able to wake up a mystical, wish-granting star of beans and take over the world... of beans. Then, she'll probably take over a few kingdoms representing other foods, like the aforementioned cake.
What else could Cake Land look like, if not a fork?
No, really. Fantastic design there, Irem!
Or maybe she'll just stick to beans and mushrooms (as if the citizens of either are of any greater value).
Doom mustard is yummy, and my life is now a Sonic OC. Got it.
While Paper Mario and Super Mario RPG have their moments, Superstar Saga is bad joke after bad joke, supported by dialogue of similar worth (you will love Fawful), and bundled firmly by amazing gameplay. I enjoyed it so much, I went back and masterfully completed another playthrough using only the starting gear. Expect a wonderful array of minigames, cameos, battle dancing (before Mettaton made it cool), and a solid soundtrack of cheerful renditions of classic SMB tunes tying them together.

#4 predates the fucKonami hashtag... you know, when Konami was a part of the League of Extraordinary Game Developers.
boktai: The Sun is in Your Hand, which I shall capitalize for further use of the title's name, is a vampirish variation of Kojima's Solid brand of stealth with the assistance of sunlight that you must provide by either going outside, or hunching yourself under a strong lamp, like I did, because the common one I used in Florida didn't produce the kind of light I needed to keep my solar gun effectively charged at all times. On the other hand, the Florida sunshine did a fair job of overheating my weapon, so a balance had to be found.

Boktai is an action RPG that rates your completion of each stage through a fairly common grading system ranging from C- to S. As long as your weapon has solar energy stored up, Django could easily sneak around monsters by stunning and running. It's also possible to kill them, but that requires more energy, and your grade is based upon how quickly you finish a stage, in addition to not being seen. Stages eventually lead to bosses, and those bosses are Immortals, except when Django defeats one of them, drags his sorry ass outside, and finishes him off with the Pile Driver.
This setup demands sunlight, and you'll definitely want to be outside (in real life) to ensure that casket doesn't manage to wiggle its way back into the darkness. Then again, perhaps you want a challenge. Things are considerably more difficult when played at night, which is done at the start of a new game when the player is asked to set up the in-game clock and time zone, as many of us have done with Pokemon titles.
With the aid of the Solar Tree, you grow items to fill your inventory. Solar items. It also helps Django find the collectible junk during a New Game + that was missed through your first playthrough. Emblems, lenses, batteries, frames, grenades, life fruit, silver coins, and invisible treasure chests. It's good, simple fun that I wish was on Steam, or maybe I don't. Nowadays, does anyone really want to give Konami money? Especially for a Kojima title? If you come across a used copy of this, however, don't hesitate to pick it, unless it's mine. Get the Hell out of my room!

Moving along with Numbah 3 is Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls.
Didn't own an NES? Hate Square Enix for their current garbage PC ports? Dawn of Souls sets you up for a horrible disappointment once FF3 is in your possession, but the high you'll get from these two is well worth it, unless you hate random battles, that is. Square didn't cut back on those when they ported these to the GBA, but given FF2's unique leveling system, that might be a boon for those of you who wish to turn your team into a Jack-of-all-trades bunch (and that would be time-consumingly dumb).
"Yes, and now your shit has come to an end!"
Ha-HA! Poop.
Now, mid-2000s you might be asking, "Why am I reading this? Why not just play FF Origins on my Playstation?" Because that's not portable, and, uh... fuck you!

Final Fantasy offers up much needed changes, like removing "ineffective" hits against deceased enemies, MP, rather than a set amount of usage for spells, stronger melee characters, and the ability to save your progress anywhere, instead of only at an inn. Bonus dungeons are unlockable, and bosses from later titles, including Gilgamesh, travel back in time to greet you.

With the sequel, defeating the final boss opens up the Soul of Rebirth content, which makes it possible for everyone to use Minwu, Ricard, and Josef again, complete with their stats and gear from when they... experienced hamburger time in the main storyline. There's also a Scott. *shrugs*
So, your party went to Hell and handled things. What's next? Heaven, of course, and that's where this "light half" of the final boss resides, along with a group of other not-so-heavenly enemies, including Lucifer, the soul of Beelzebub, and a five-headed version of Orochi. I guess Hitler was busy elsewhere trying to sneak into a portable Wolfenstein 3D remake. Still, I appreciate having Josef back on my team, and the addition of Soul of Rebirth only helped me love the story of FF2 more than I already did.

Lastly, beat'em both and unlock soundtracks! I love video game music, and always welcome more of it.

There are now mobile ports of these games available, and that's swell. My taste for the series came from this one, and it's the reason I decided to play through the rest of the single-player main series (at least up to FFX). I kinda wish I had played the GBA port of FFV, but Sir Barnes the Noble appears to have enjoyed it enough for the both of us.

Sigh... Joseph beat me to it. Ok then! For the NEW #3, I'd like to spotlight Zelda's The Minish Cap, because it was/is far superior to that of Capcom's previous efforts with Oracle of Seasons/Ages, and it's not a port of A Link to the Past, which will unfairly make everything better, even when used to help sell a multiplayer-only version of Zelda... or worse.
The Minish Cap provides something of a snack for Zelda fans. It's length pales in comparison to more popular titles in the franchise, and collecting Kinstones and figurines does little to encourage additional playthroughs. Then again, the DS arrived around the same time, and I'm sure Nintendo wanted to drive consumers in that direction, all while knowing that they'll either come back to this or finish it immediately and purchase the new handheld soon after. Everything here was planned with perfection, and, despite a lack of difficulty, few found reasons to genuinely dislike The Minish Cap. Why would they? It's brief, sure, but the experience is colorful, the dungeons and boss fights are well-designed, and the existence of the Minish race actually helps to explain why items are found in patches of grass and under rocks. Ultimately, it's a Zelda title on a Nintendo console that's better than Spirit Tracks. That's really all the reason you need to purchase this.

So, now I've reach the fifth and fina... ahem, the fourth reason to praise the short-lived GBA, and it's one I surprise myself with.
How does one make Mega Man enjoyable again? By visiting a horror attraction, disregarding that entirely, centering the whole thing around a popular IP instead, and cashing in on the second wind of that sweet card craze many of us remember through Yu-Gi-Oh!, Magi Nation, Kingdon Hearts: Chain of Memories, the third season of Digimon, and the Nintendo e-Reader, which I used like a D-Power digivice, even though the end results were new clothes on Animal Crossing and a port of Ice Climber.
Jeri takes Urban Champion far more seriously than it deserves.
Battle Network is an odd addition to the franchise, if only because the storyline belongs in a Saturday morning cartoon series (and it was). Collecting chips and battling with them more than makes up for all of that, however, and every aspect of it is significantly improved upon with the first sequel. The story and characters are still fucking dumb, but the developers managed to string together a vaguely competent excuse to do it all over again, and I'm fine with that.
Had to ruin everything with greed, didn't ya, Capcom?
After Battle Network 2, Capcom released newer iterations in couples similar to Pokemon, along with MM Network Transmission, a platformer RPG that plays like a second-rate traditional Mega Man game, because we always need more traditional Mega Man games, don't we? Most of these consist of numerous recycled assets with slight changes and improvements over the previous sequels, so I only recommend the first two.

And, finally, #5 (the real one) is Metroid Fusion, the FAR BETTER GBA Metroid game!
See, Samus made a second appearance with Zero Mission just two years later, and many shelved Fusion in favor of the SNES-styled recreation of the original. Thing is, the efforts put into Fusion's creation were also necessary to help with the development of Zero Mission. Basically, that one is superior only because it's the result of three amazing Metroid titles. Fusion shines with its own glorious adventure about what happens when one screws with the circle of space life.
And it consumes us all.
Without Metroids to feed on the X parasites, the little buggers are free to infect and mutate everything, including Samus, who had to be surgically removed from her suit and injected with a vaccine made from the baby who sacrificed itself to help Samus defeat Mother Brain in the previous title. As a result, Samus has a sleek new appearance, absorbs X parasites for nourishment, and tolerates the cold worse than I do. Unfortunately, there's the little matter of a sentient Power Suit to deal with, but there's no need to find it. It'll find you.
What I love most about Fusion is the fear of periodically running into this monster.
When SA-X (the popular nickname given to the supercouple of Samus Aran's suit and the X parasite), isn't forcing Samus to take a lengthy detour to reach her intended destination, the SA-X enjoys long jogs across a corridor, hunting down Samus while spamming the Ice Beam. Those moments scared me considerably on my first playthrough. I thought it was refreshing to have something unbeatable chase after my bounty hunter for a change. Normally, everything I come across is content to sit in designated rooms, waiting for me to arrive.

Then, there's the side story of Samus and Adam, the personal computer of her new gunship. It's nothing overly deep and engaging. Their conversations merely add a little more to a series that had been relatively silent throughout the years. Later sequels, I feel, put too much emphasis into developing a backstory, and it turned Ms. Aran into a crying, whiny bitch. Fusion, however, merely added a pinch of it for flavoring, and, more importantly, allowed Samus to retain her dignity, though at the expense of her suit... and original gunship. Moving on.

Despite the limitations, I think I was fortunate with my selection. All five are original games, which is amazing considering the smorgasbord of remakes and ports I could have used: Rock n' Roll Racing, Bubble Bobble, Alien Hominid, the Atari Anniversary collection, the Namco Museum collection, Breath of Fire 1 and 2, Final Fight, Strider, Disney's Magical Quest, all three Donkey Kong Country titles, Earthworm Jim (GROOVY!), Final Fantasy 5, 6, Tactics, and that shitty one about Cecil...
...Wolfenstein 3D, Super Dodge Ball, River City Ransom, Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts, and everything relating to Mario, because Nintendo does that with practically every console and handheld they create. They stuff it with Mario. Lots of Mario. Mario Mario. Want some Mario? Here's some Mario! Hey, is this your Mario? No, I've got my own Mario, thanks.

The Game Boy Advance lasted three years before the Nintendo DS arrived to take over. In just three years, the handheld amassed a library of over 1000 games. I don't see any reason for Nintendo to actually care about this milestone for their 32-bit marvel, but it wouldn't hurt for them to consider developing another whimsical sequel for the Advance Wars series. I miss Andy, Sami, and Max, along with the Black Hole Army. I don't want Days of Ruin 2. Too edgy for me.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

I Finally Fantasied 5 & 6.

I've had to restart this thing five times now, so I apologize if I seem a teensy bit agitated throughout the post.

Last December, I bought Final Fantasy 6 and placed Final Fantasy 5 on my wishlist, because if I played one more shitty-ass Final Fuck-up of Linearized Melodrama, I sure as Hell wasn't going to pay another $15 to do it again. Much to my surprise, I absolutely LOVED Final Fantasy 6! Is it better than Final Fantasy 7? Is it better than...
"the best game ever!?"
Oh, good heavens, yes! I mostly enjoyed FF7. A final boss form that becomes increasingly difficult when one levels up his party or uses the strongest summon to defeat the previous form, loads of optional content (including more mini-games), a terrific soundtrack that is my favorite of all the FF titles, and, most importantly, it comes with Cait Sith.
I'm no gambling man, but randomized abilities provide some much-needed
entertainment during long periods of grindy battles.
In fact, the only major problem I have with FF7 is that the storyline is grossly convoluted. With each new twist and revelation, the whole thing felt like it was trying way too hard to keep me invested, which was never an issue during my playthrough. While 6 does have its moments, none of them are too far out there to be unbelievable.
Released a year prior to Chrono Trigger, one would be hard pressed not to find the influence FF6 had on Trigger's development. They look so goshdarn like the same game. I would say to them, "You want Biggs and Wedge?" Both of them say, "Yes." In fact, nearly every aspect of Chrono Trigger is a polished variation of FF6, with exceptions to its Active Time Battle system (which is drastically better) and Lavos, whose shallow presence is comparable to that of the final bosses for the other five Final Fantasy titles. At least he's not as bad as FF3's Miss Dark Cloud of Unlocking Credits who just appears out of Xande's well-toned ass and threatens all of existence.
"I love my forehead."
Lavos is just trying to feed and reproduce. Killing him for our own survival is more like a way of life, rather than a heroic deed. It's not what I would call a "satisfying conclusion" for the story, and it makes me wonder why Square went back a step with the character's depth after doing such an amazing job with Kefka, the "gag" villain of FF6, who stopped playing the fool around the time he decided to poison off an entire kingdom while comparing the sounds of their agony to that of beautiful music. He later topped this by booting his power-hungry king right off the edge of a floating landmass, absorbed enough power to turn himself into a god, and, basically, destroyed the entire surface of the planet. See, now that's the kind of scumbag practically every player would want to take down in the finale - a murderous, semi-omnipotent clown deity. I know calling him a "clown" already implied "murderous," but there's no harm in clarifying.

FF6 also features a rather large cast of playable characters, quality graphics (partially omitted from mobile ports), and a story that not only follows through in a similar, competent fashion to that of 5, but also manages to highlight the charm of several individuals through various subplots. My only major gripe is with having to "grind" for special attacks, especially for an achievement hunter. All of Gau's Rage moves, for example, deal with your party having to encounter previous enemies in a region known as the Veldt. If you actually come across a monster with a move Gau still needs to learn, then have Gau use Leap on that enemy and he will leave the party. During another random battle, he will appear, remind the party that he is their friend and join the team again... unless you hit him by mistake, that is. Then, the brat runs away and you repeat that scene with, yet, another random battle. All of this must be done to learn a single Rage move from the monster you targeted with his Leap ability, and potentially another from a monster you defeated during the battle of his return. What enemies you will face is randomized, making this achievement more frustrating than the traditional "Level (character name) to 99" nonsense, and, with regard to both achievements, this ought to come with a free punch to the mouth of whomever believed it was a brilliant idea to have in the first place.

Six offers plenty of optional bosses, including a gaggly clan of weak dragons, a magic man, a goof-off cephalopod and his snorty sidekick, and even Gilgamesh who shows up for a one-on-one, because he's Gilgamesh, the Cid of FF enemies. The guy just loves to make appearances, even in games that were released before his debut. Remember him in FF2? Nor did I until I played Dawn of Souls.
Great. Now the guy's going Turbo.
The final bout with Kefka is the most impressive I've ever fought in an RPG. A climbing gauntlet that requires the cooperation of twelve party members, and it's not Kefka taking on new Frieza-styled forms, either, which I greatly appreciate. Instead, you get to deal with a towering abomination, immediately followed by the God of Magic himself.
While many parts of the game will require the use of other characters anyhow, it's still important to spread the love throughout the entire party, because a single team of four probably won't reach the top without having somebody removed during one of the transitions. As for me, the only one I truly ignored was Gau, so he, along with Shadow, was left behind. I didn't actually know I was suppose to wait for Shadow, so I had no choice but to fight Kefka without him.

Overall, this game revitalized my desire to play more of the series. I give it an 11 out of 10, and I would gladly play again if I didn't have a mountain of other games to work through. Is it the best Final Fantasy? Probably... kinda... I'm not sure yet, but it was definitely good enough to convince me to purchase its predecessor, which is a vast improvement over 4, but pales in comparison to 6. I guess that's kinda how it should be with sequels, right?
Here is where the shitty ass graphics really shine for the mobile ports. It wasn't nearly this glaring with FF6, but look at those seams! FUCKIN' LOOK AT THEM! Who at Square Enix actually believed a straight mobile port was a fantastic idea to put on the PC? ...as if that mattered. Those money grubbin' assclowns knew modders would offer their free services to fix those mistakes, meaning they'd not only save money on, you know, not doing their own fucking work, but would also receive all the money from the Steam purchases, but, hey, we can now legally own almost the entire main series on the PC along with an assortment of nifty achievements to earn, like opening every chest in the game and maxing out levels, right?
Is this not embarrassing to Square Enix?
It's like shitting your pants and not caring if your customers notice.
When running the game, the launcher, in its own window, must always be present. There's also the little matter of a randomizing cursor to contend with. Sometimes, I get to attack when I try to attack, but, at other times, it will try to make me choose an item to waste, or cast magic, or... actually it doesn't matter! I shouldn't have to fight with my controls to play an "enhanced port" of a 20-year-old game. Even outside of battle, the whole menu system is cumbersome and counterintuitive. Maybe that's how it was back in 1992, but if we're enhancing a port, an enhanced menu should be included. Then again, maybe this setup was perfect for a mobile device. I'm not sure. I don't play mobile games (unless they're a shoddy port on a PC, that is). Judging by some of the complaints I've read on the store page, this remake suffers from additional problems for those with high-end graphic cards and/or while utilizing multiple monitors. I'm lucky in that regard, because I'm not fortunate enough to be rich, which isn't really all that lucky at all, so I'm neither rich nor lucky! Ha ha ha... *breaks down in tears*

Ok, so it's a technical and visual mess. If you can get past that, however, it's not a bad game at all. Moments of comedy are effectively sprinkled throughout a straightforward tale of good vs evil across multiple worlds.
It has vore, too.
Sprites are certainly cleaner, though no effort was made to have the main cast resemble the portraits of their concept art. I won't bother complaining about it, since I'm sure it would have offended a large chunk of the fan base to alter one to appear more like the other, and I bet there's already a free mod available to address the matter. What I am peeved about is how players are supposed to be fooled into believing Faris is a male for the first third of the adventure when her in-game sprite clearly resembles that of her sister and every other female. It's not really much of a reveal, now is it?
Enemy sprites look great.
Some better than others.
I love the dialogue in this one. Woolsey is a fantastic translator, no matter how inaccurate parts of a script might become.
*The greatest theme song ever begins to play*
Leaping lizards! What are we gonna do, Bartz?!
*rimshot*
References! 
Just give me a moment to slip into my Hammer pants.
But it's not all about fun 'n' games, lousy graphics, and vore...
Ok, so there's a little more vore.
There's also a need for work, which is why Final Fantasy 5 revisits the job system of FF3 through the use of exploding crystals. Just pick up a piece of the debris and you're now a Summoner, a Beserker, a Dragoon, a Ninja, a Furry, or a handful of other jobs that help to further bloat the game, because grinding is fun and should be stretched out for as long as possible. While some provide a reasonable skill set, many should have been condensed or cut out completely, like the Geomancer, which only provides a single decent ability, followed by worthless fluff. Separate jobs for singing and dancing? Fluff. Why couldn't a Beastmaster and a Ranger go hand-in-hand? Because fluff. Having to accumulate a second type of experience just to level jobs? Here's more fluff. Also, to make things more obnoxious, many enemies will only provide one of the two kinds, so there's rarely a single farming spot to conveniently power up your team.

Several of the earned abilities are complete garbage, regardless of what job offers them.
Learning how to tie a knot is tricky stuff!
The worst of these comes from being a Chemist and learning to use the Drink ability to, you guessed it, drink something. I know these characters already possess the ability to drink. Two of them were doing it during a cutscene in Regole. It's just more blatant padding with more fucking achievements trying to glorify them.
FUCK YOU, BADGE!
On the matter of achievements, there's a lot of missible content to worry about. Oddly enough, the bestiary isn't one of them, if you can believe that. Frequently saving in different slots will allow the player to go back to various spots in the game to encounter enemies and record them for the bestiary of every save file. Not just that one. So, if you were in a rush to beat the timer at Karnak Castle, you probably missed somebody.
Why yes, Bartz. That guy.
I was hoping this would work with opening the chests, because I know I skipped a few at Karnak Castle in order to escape from the explosion. Then again, maybe it does, and I unknowingly missed a chest elsewhere.

Beating Mr. Mwa-Ha-Ha...
"I turned myself into a tiny..."
Again, the dialogue is magnificent.
...unlocks a new dungeon with a more powerful duo of superbosses, a lousy boss rush, random battles against enemies that were extremely rare to encounter throughout the main storyline, and, of course, more fucking jobs to level up, including the Oracle, which I feel is the least useful of the twenty-six. This dungeon provides a decent challenge, along with a few choice spots for farming both kinds of experience, if that's your thing. I actually grinded everyone to level 99, just because I wanted to try and take down Neo Shinryu. Even then, he still pummeled my team a few times, but I suppose he wouldn't be much of a superboss if he didn't.

A fan of the SNES or GBA version has every right to hate this port. It's shit. Hell, the GBA port looks and plays better. Why didn't Square Enix lazily reuse that, instead? Why make another that's actually worse than the 1992 version? I'm not a developer. Perhaps there are issues involved that I'm not aware of, but none of this makes sense to me. I had never played V or VI beforehand, so I was more involved with the storylines than with the technical matters, and I was happy just to fully understand what was going on without the need of an online summary to explain what I just went through. I'm pretty sure the bat shit crazy stuff began on the PlayStation with FF7's weird tale of false memories, alien clones, and the Lifestream, though I still remember more about that than I did after playing FF8. All I can recall from that one is the Balamb Garden theme music, rocket motorcycles, a cute teacher with a whip, and Triple Triad. Practically nothing of the story itself. This worries me a little, because I really hope FF9 isn't a confusing mess to understand. I also hope the Steam port isn't another embarrassment for the developer, though I highly doubt they would care if it was.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Evoland 2: A Sequel with a Marginally Shorter Subtitle

"After a few years, you'll probably only remember this as 'that game about stuff from other games.'"

That's a quote from my post about Evoland: A Short Story of Adventure Video Games Evolution. Yes, that's the full name of it. This is the one that took first place in the 2014 Ludum Dare competition. I blogged about it nearly two years ago, so I understand if you forgot. Hell, I typed the thing and it still managed to slip from my memory. Well, did you know a sequel, Evoland 2: A Slight Case of Spacetime Continuum Disorder (Yes, that's the full name of it), was released on Steam and gog.com back in August? Really? Shit, I wish you had told me! I didn't know that!

Thanks to the Steam winter sale event, I discovered its existence while speeding through my Explore Your Queue list. I bought it at half price, because it was during the winter sale (duh), but don't listen to anyone claiming this indie isn't worth its $20 price tag. Shiro Games significantly improved upon the original, providing roughly fifteen to twenty hours of varied entertainment, and that's if you're only focused upon reaching the end. I clocked in thirty-seven, but I also have a tendency to leave the game running while doing equally-unimportant things. Plus, I took the time to earn all the achievements.
Beat'em up mode with Ababa and his pirate crew.
As with the original, Evoland 2 periodically swaps out the mechanics of one genre with another. One of the reasons I bought this was to answer the same questions Paul had when I told him about it: "Didn't Evoland already give us an acceptable history lesson on various adventure titles? What more could the sequel provide?" In retrospect, it's a bit odd that neither of us thought about delving into other (non-adventure) genres, because that's exactly what E2 did. Seamlessly, too. For something that tackles (in no particular order) platformer, match-three, rhythm, shmup (horizontal and vertical), fighting, brawler, stealth, tactical rpg, action adventure, active time battles, tcg, and puzzles, one would think there'd be a loading screen once in a while. Not only that, but the damn thing is constantly auto-saving. When it isn't, reaching a save point will restore health and mana, and boss battles supply health, experience, and cash that carry over even if the player fails. Sounds like excessive hand-holding, but we're typing about an assortment of genres here. Someone might be a badass when it comes to handling a bullet hell, yet still has trouble timing his jumps across a series of temporary platforms. It's impressive for Shiro Games to take this into consideration, especially since parts of Evoland 2 are not half as easy as their simplified mechanics might lead you to believe. I had my ass kicked a few times for underestimating the situation.

With regard to story, something vaguely existed in the original. It's successor, however, took heavy inspiration from Chrono Trigger, which includes waking up at the start, a lot of time traveling, and an ending that leaves the player with several unanswered questions. There's a war going on between demons and humans in the past, which is being remembered with a 50th anniversary festival in the present, and your team includes a pair of women with particularly familiar characteristics. One is the obvious love interest with a headstrong and ill-mannered personality, plays the role of healer at certain points in the game, and also happens to be the daughter of a village leader. The other is an intelligent, rational lady who becomes the go-to for answers when things become weird, and she isn't afraid to close in on her enemies and bonk them on the head with a hammer the book she's carrying.

Didn't she use to wear a hat?
Might as well make the lawsuit from Square Enix a reality by having Kuro shoot bolts of lightning from his arse while a talking, armour-clad frog defends himself with a rainbow-coloured banjo. Then again, The Exogarth is no substitute for Lavos, and a racing segment is the one thing Trigger does include that Evoland 2 forgot about ...unless there is a racing portion in Evoland and I'm the one who forgot. Hmmm.... Anyhow, here's The Exogarth!
"Run for your virtual lives! It's a giant turd with wings!"
Outside of mechanics, anyone with even a shallow pool of entertainment knowledge to drink from will spot references overladen throughout the journey. It's not just game-related content, either.
As if anime doesn't reference DBZ enough, here's two more to add to that list.
The shield is fairly obvious, but you might not spot the "ACME" label on the barrel.
Here's a line of references the game referenced earlier now making a reference of its own. 
Reminds me of one of my neighbors.
yuk yuk yuk yuk yuk
Unintentionally, Evo2 even pays homage to the glory days of Barry Burton.
This shouldn't surprise anyone, since Shiro Games is an indie developer from France.
Still, I wish their lines were voice acted. That could have been amazing!
I experienced very few bugs in my playthrough. The game did freeze three times, but, as I mentioned, it autosaves so often that I lost nothing as a result. Other than that, I noticed a handful of amateur loose ends, like having a character refuse to follow you into a particular location only to do so right before the game assumes you're about to leave, triggering the character's return to your party. In some parts, the player is given a choice, but the alternative cutscene for completing an event can also be triggered depending upon where you go after finishing the first. And, of course, there's some clipping, because there's always clipping.
Oh, Kuro. You so craaazy. Now take that filthy barrel off your head!
I can't vouch for Evoland's replay value. None of its achievements are missable (That's a poor excuse to force anyone to start a new game anyhow!) and, for all that it does, there's nothing specific I would deem outstanding. Everything ranges from average (story; gameplay; boss battles) to above average (character development; humor; the soundtrack), and its scores reflect this. I do wish to highlight its encouragement towards reaching 100% completion. Not only does the Everything under the Sun-dar item aid the player in finding all the chests, dragon balls, and collectible cards (except for one in the mines, and, for that, just smash the wall directly in front of the entrance) throughout the world, it also rewards you with a slowly-rotating 3D model based upon that percentage.
Here's what I received the first time I completed the game.
I assure you, it's missing a few things.
A speed runner can complete the original Evoland in roughly 31 minutes at any %. Evoland 2's top runner so far does this in just under 5 hours. That's further reason to justify spending an Andrew Jackson, right? But if you want to be sensible and pick it up during a Steam sale, consider purchasing the soundtrack DLC along with it. There's 51 songs (1 hour and 42 minutes) of decent variety on that thing, including Castlevania, so I'm sure you'd find something to your liking. I figured there would need to be at least seven songs on that soundtrack to justify paying $6.99. You know, about $0.99 per tune. I enjoy thirty of them, with eleven being in my Top Rated playlist. That's seven bucks well spent.

Overall, I am quite satisfied with Evoland 2, and I hope to see more from Shiro Games in the near future.

What do think, Wedge?