Archive for June, 2010

Pokémon HeartGold/Soul Silver Review

Posted in DS, Reviews on June 25, 2010 by satoshimatrix

 

GameFreak remakes the best games they’ve ever produced

 

Health risk notice: the following review is a revised script I wrote for the import version. Copypasta may contain trace of peanuts. Women who are nursing, pregnant or may become pregnant should stop eating copypasta and contact their doctor immediately. Side effects of copypasta may include laziness, and journalistic apathy.

Late last year, Nintendo released two more entries in the ongoing Pokémon main series of games in Japan – Pocket Monsters HeartGold and SoulSilver. This past spring, the games were finally localized and released in North America as Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver.

If you’re wondering why these titles sound fermilliar, its because they probably are –

These are remakes of the incredibly popular and successful Gold and Silver games, not to mention the fact that I put up a review of the import versions right here on my blog last year. Now that I have the English versions, I’ll go over them again in greater depth.

It’s been ten years since Gold and Silver hit the Gameboy Color in America, and Nintendo/Game Freak felt it was time to remake Gold and Silver from the ground up on the Nintendo DS using the graphics engine that powered the 2007 Pokémon games Diamond and Pearl. Was their plan a success?

Without a doubt, a resounding yes. Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver are  the best Pokémon games made thus far. If you’ve fallen out of place and missed the last several games, this is where you should jump back in. There was a reason why I imported the Japanese version even though I have only a preschooler’s ability to actually read written kana.

Genre

If somehow you don’t know what a Pokémon game is about, kill yourself let me tell you.

The Pokémon games are turn based strategy RPGs with a heavy emphasis on customization. You engage in battles using your starter Pokémon against wild Pokémon and other trainers to gain strength and catch other Pokémon in orde to defeat other powerful trainers.

The primary goal of the game is to become a Pokémon master, but you also have the secondary goal to capture each of the 400+ Pokémon asnd complete your Pokédex. A third goal is to maybe train a few parties of six Pokémon. Altogether, these goals probably offer around 200 hours of gameplay at the very least. Truly, these are not short RPGs by any means despite their kiddy appearance.

Story

Pokémon games are generally light on story, but essentially, you play as a beginner Pokémon trainer aiming to become a Pokémon Master. Along your journey you must collect badges from Gym Leaders and foil the secret plans of the criminal organization Team Rocket.

Like every game since Crystal, you can choose the gender of your character at the start of the game. You can choose to be Gold/Kenta/Ethan, a young boy clad in red and gold or Kris/Kotone/Lynete, a revised design of the Crystal female character now dressed in only what can be described as a Mario outfit. I find this change rather odd and confusing.

Why the update? Crystal looked fine (not that way, pedo!) the way she was. One theory is she didn’t suddenly change, it was a gradual change over several years.

A slow change we didn't notice until it was too late.

The Johto Region as it appeared in Gold and Silver.

Like with all other Pokémon games, players will be divided into two categories, no exceptions – those who are fine with the visual presentation and those who feel it is completely outdated and in major need of an overhaul.

See, with every new release in the main series, the main graphics have only improved slightly. For the main overworld field graphics, the original Gold and Silver used a slightly improved engine from that of Red and Blue. Then Ruby and Sapphire used a slightly improved engine from Gold and Silver. After that, Diamond and Pearl used a slightly improved engine from Ruby and Sapphire. Guess what HeartGold and SoulSilver do?

If you guessed they use a slightly improved Diamond/Pearl engine, you’re catching along. The games do employ some DS-specific visual tricks such as changes in depth and 3D buildings made of simple polygons rather than sprites, but these effects are tacked on and the game wouldn’t suffer without them at all.

In battle, the biggest difference ever was from the days of Red and Blue where most Pokémon barely resembled what they were suppose to look like to Gold and Silver’s excellent sprite sets. HeartGold/SoulSilver use even more detailed, excellent sprites. There really isn’t more than I can say. Basically, the visuals are the same as they’ve always been, only slightly enhanced.

Sound

The return to Johto would be a rather dull experience if the fantastic music from the originals were not present and luckily they are – and holy shit do they sound good. Every chiptune from Gold and Silver have now been remixed using the godly DS soundchip and the remixes range from very good to “holy shit, did my DS just produce that awesome track?!”. I’ve played a lot of DS games, but I haven’t had that kind of experience since the first time I heard Golden Sun on the GBA. That’s how good it is.

GameFreak has seriously raised the bar in terms of audio on the DS. This game demands to be played either by pumping the sound out via headphones or better yet, a surround sound speaker system. As a special totally awesome treat for long time players, towards the end of the game once you get all sixteen badges, return to Celadon City and get an item called the GB Player – this nifty item reverts all audio tracks back to the 8-bit GBC chiptunes, and even generates new chiptunes for tracks not found in the originals!

One last time I think I should mention – as always, Pokémon shout their 8-bit cries rather than scream their names as in the anime. Considering what an amazing job GameFreak did arranging the music, it’s sad to hear the 8-bit screeches that play during it. I hope that someday this changes, or at least gives you the option to change it. The 8-bit cries have become so entrenched with the games that I’m not sure I’d like a Pokémon game without their ridiculously primitive sounds.

Admit it: the return to Kanto made you happy. In your pants.

Rather than bore you with how these games play I’ll simply list the highlights:

-Can trade with Diamond Pearl and Platinum, as well as import Pokémon from Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, FireRed and LeafGreen. English Pokémon can be traded without problem to the Japanese game and vise versa!

-Fully touchscreen driven interface in all aspects, not just battle.

-Refined battle system from Diamond Pearl and Platinum.

-New backpack interface that is touchscreen driven and allows easy sorting of all your hundreds of items by game’s end

-PokéGear makes its return with its watch, map, phone and radio functions fully intact

-Visitable Kanto with almost all of the locals from the original Red and Blue visitable once again, unlike in the original versions of Gold and Silver which simply would remove doors and entrances, making the Kanto region a rather dull one in the original versions of Gold and Silver.

-New events, and even a new area to the west of Cianwood City.

Control

As mentioned, the entire game has been overhauled to support the touchscreen in all menu aspects. In fact, the only button required to play if you want to do everything on the touchscreen is the D-pad. However, you can still play it with buttons should you prefer. This makes me very thankful, as this is the primary reason I hated StarFox DS so much.

Availability and Price

These are new games, and Pokémon games generally carry a premium. Try ebay – I won an auction for a new copy for $18 US! Beware of buying from Hong Kong or China – counterfeit versions are all over ebay. There is also a cheaper French-Canadian version which is real…but the whole game is in French!

Audience

A typical image from a typical Pokémon General thread.

Everyone, but mostly adults! – While on the surface marketed towards young kids, HeartGold and SoulSilver are unspokenly made for gamers in their 20’s that have fond memories of the original Gold and Silver. The online component means we no longer need to gather in playgrounds with link cables and carry around heavy shame and embarrassment for doing so. There are Pokémon General threads on notorious imageboard 4chan several times a day, everyday – Pokémon games are secretly for the hardcore adult gaming nerds and we’re proud of it.

History

After several slight revisions to the hugely successful Pocket Monsters Red and Green and after they had become popular in North America as well, development quickly started on the next Pokémon games.

First announced in Japan in as early as 1997, Pocket Monsters 2: Gold and Silver were originally planned to be Gameboy games that would make heavy use of the Super Gameboy’s enhanced color. As the project progressed, GameFreak began to shift development towards the up and coming Gameboy Color, which would greatly outclass what would be possible on the SGB.

Almost two years later, near finished versions of Gold and Silver were shown at SpaceWorld in early 1999, and anticipation for Gold and Silver grew like wildfire the world over.

The next games promised so, very much. Full color, vastly improved graphics, a new world, and new Pokémon were just the tip of the iceberg New Pokémon were shown and speculation on just how big these games were ran rampant.

Planned for around the time of release, Nintendo also announced a virtual pet keychain called the Pocket Pikachu Color, which could collect “watts” and be used as a currency to buy useful items in Gold and Silver in much the same way the PokéWalker interacts with HeartGold and SoulSilver.

Some of the many improvements included almost Pokémon would now have gender and could breed, hold items, learn special moves and heal themselves independently with various berries.

Another big change was that the Special stat from the earlier games would be devided amogst special attack and defense, chaning the dynamic and usefulness of certain existing Pokémon.

For example, Hitmonlee had a very low special stat in the first games and was thus very weak. When the special stat was divided, it gained a large special defense and a low special attack, making it much more useful. On the flipside, Cloyster, a Pokémon with a very high special stat in the first games, gained a very low special defense.

The games would also use a real time clock which would not only track the time of day, but also the day of the week. The game actually put various events at certain times of the day and certain days of the week, requiring players who wanted to get everything out of the games to play every day.

Gamefreak had introduced so many new concepts in Gold and Silver that the games that followed on the GBA actually removed some of these features to make the games more streamlined and simpler. Even Diamond, Pearl and Platinum lack some of what made Gold and Silver so spectacular.

As a final unexpected treat, players who beat the Elite Four would be returned to their home town and told….a whole new world awaited.

The ability to return to Kanto was incredible, and no Pokémon game since has allowed you to do anything like this.

Closing Comments

old gold/silver guide

HeartGold and SoulSilver so closely mimic the original versions that you can still use old strategy guides for the GBC versions if you have any. Old guides still ring true with item, trainers and Pokémon locations as well as general maps. Only slight storyline differences and Crystal inspired events won’t show up in your old guides, but you’ll find them still incredibly helpful.

The maps really make exploring some areas much easier. You might want to track down the VS guide on ebay.

Personally,I couldn’t wait for HeartGold or hell, even the original Gold. More than ten years ago, I wanted to play through Pokémon Gold on an emulator (for shame I know) but my then-knowledge of Japanese was null. That’s why I bought this:

Pocket Monsters Gold and Silver Translation Guide

This guide was written in late ’99 shortly after the release the Japanese version and predates any other guide I’ve seen. It carefully details each area what you need to do, who you need to talk to, what items are for sale, etc. Even now, it proves a handy refrencebook for the Japanese experience as it explains the translations of key concepts and words.

A great choice indeed!

Example An example of the translation guide

Overall, except a great experience. I played it in Japanese and am playing it again in English. This is a must-buy. It’s epic. 9/10

IMG_0687
Hot Double Gold Action!

Data

Platform: Nintendo DS

Genre: RPG

Release Date: 2010

Devoloper: GameFreak

Publisher: Nintendo

Developer’s notable other works: Pokémon Diamond, Pearl, Platinum, FireRed, LeafGreen, Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, Gold, Silver, Crystal, Red, Blue, Yellow

ESRB: E

Buy or skip: Buy

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Dreamfall The Longest Journey Review (Xbox/PC)

Posted in Hidden gems, Reviews, Xbox on June 19, 2010 by satoshimatrix

 

The best adventure game on the Xbox, and one of the best adventure games, period

 

Videogames sure have changed over the years. Once just simple screen-driven versions of tabletop games and basic, basic shooters, today’s games exist in a multifaceted world of complex genres and styles. Mirroring the history of film,  a key question is often asked now: are videogames art?

While that is potentially arguable both ways in the general sense, one thing  cannot be argued – Dreamfall: The Longest Journey is indeed art.

Dreamfall is one of the last, best games for Windows and Microsoft’s original black Xbox. My computer isn’t gaming quality by any stretch of the meaning, so I’ll be reviewing the Xbox title.

Genre

Dreamfall the Longest Journey is a 3D adventure game that plays like many menu and text-driven adventure games but with all the text dialogue carefully and skillfully spoken making the wonderful writing even more enjoyable. There are plenty of places to explore, things to investigate, people to meet and interact with, and yes, classic adventure game puzzles.

Story

“They say that  every story has a beginning and an end. That may be true in most cases, but sometimes however, the two are one and the same.” – Zoë

Without going into too much detail, Dreamfall is the story of a young woman named Zoë Castillo who lives in futuristic Casablanca. She’s your average gal with average problems – she’s looking for her place in school, love, and the world at large. Although her life starts out completely average, soon she’ll be caught up in events far more important than her trivial problems and her world will never be the same…

Zoë keeps seeing visions of a small young girl in a white dress in various monitors wherever she goes. The girl telling her to save someone named April Ryan and cryptic remarks about a place called “Arcadia”. What does this all mean?

Like Final Fantasy VI, the story of Dreamfall centers around multiple characters that each have a story to tell that is every bit as interesting as the main story, but also like the classic Square game, Dreamfall does generally focus most of its efforts on the central character, Zoë Castio. She is such a well flushed out character that during the times when you don’t play as her, you will actually miss her.

Gameplay

This is what really separates Dreamfall from other games – its not really a “game”. Dreamfall focuses on long, exquisitely detailed in-engine cutscenes to move the story along. For the most part, this is the kind of game that sweeps the player off their feet and takes them on a long journey – just as the subtitle would suggest.

Some people hate this idea and feel they should be in control. If that’s you, then stop reading this and go play something else. You will not enjoy Dreamfall.

If this does sound like something you would enjoy, then you’ll find yourself in true gaming bliss.There are cleaver ways the game engages players allowing interaction in the story which few games employ so well.

Occasionally you have command over how Zoë will respond to someone during a conversation, which can effect the course of events to come. Some entire events can be avoided or altered through speech, and it all feels natural. Everyone in the whole game reacts as you would expect real people to.

The game has some stealth sections that are really just there to break up the gameplay so you’re not always doing the same kind of thing. It’s as fitting in Dreamfall as it would be other adventure games, say Phoenix Wright for instance.

The biggest flaw with Dreamfall is the fact that it has a fighting system. Incredibly simplistic, robotic and awful, there are thankfully only a handful of fights in the entire game. It’s not a big enough problem to worry too much about though.

Of course, what would be an Adventure game without puzzles? Dreamfall’s involve using a small set of inventory items to solve problems. This usually takes the form of combining two or more items together to create something useful or using Zoë’s black market cellphone to hack into digital locks. The hacking mini game is along the idea of Bioshock’s use of Pipedream, but this time its more like Simon Says than anything else.

Audio

Dreamfall has a stunning score. Composed by Leon Willett, the tracks are extremely atmospheric and greatly help drive the emotion of each scene. Since Dreamfall has more in common with movies than other games, this aspect is crucial and is executed extremely well.  Songs are mostly instrumental with plenty of piano, strings and other soft instruments, but there are also a few vocal tracks sung by Norwegian singer Even Johansen, aka Magnet.

Dreamfall is also without a doubt, the host of some of the most impressive and largest voice cast in gaming history. There are literally dozens and dozens of voice actors who each deliver unique lines, and everyone in the game is voiced. You will never encounter two people with the same voice as you do in other games such as Oblivion. Each of the main characters espically have voices that fit their characters are the acting is spot on. There’s something both fitting and exotic about a girl from Casablanca with a distinctly English voice.

Check out this video for an example of the superb voice acting in Dreamfall, and to see how the game first begins with Brian Westhouse, a character long time fans of the Longest Journey will already know:

Controls

As I don’t have the PC version, I can only comment on the controls for the Xbox. Dreamfall is a 3D Adventure game seemingly tailor made for the Xbox controller S in mind. You move with the left stick and can rotate your surroundings with the Right stick. If you click the left stick in, a blue “scanning beam” will appear and when it highlights an object you can interact with, the object will gain a green box around it and a simple press of the A button will allow you to examine it more closely. The +pad is used to manage inventory, the right shoulder button toggles stealth, and the A button is used for general advances.  When given different ways you can respond in conversations, simply tilt the left stick toward the one you want and press A. It all works extremely well.

Availability and price

As with all PC games, Dreamfall will cost more or less depending on where you look. I’ve seen it for as low as $10 and as high as $30. As for the Xbox version, expect to pay around $20. Dreamfall was released almost a year after the 360 was, so it may be slightly difficult to find, but you should be able to find it wherever you can find Xbox originals.

Audience

Mature – Dreamfalls deals with some pretty heavy stuff, including death, drugs and more, but the game is best played by adult gamers because they can best relate to the various situations Zoë and the other main characters find themselves in, and be able to appreciate what drives their actions.

History

Dreamfall is the middle chapter in the Longest Journey narrative created by Norwegian game designer/writer Ragnar Tørnquist. The first game in the series, 1999’s The Longest Journey told the story of April Ryan, a young woman from Stark who unintentionally shifts to Arcadia and learns she has a pivotal role in the future of that world. The Longest Journey may be aged, but it’s still such a fantastic game to go into further detail would be a disservice to that wonderful game. Track it down it you can.

Dreamfall picks up several years later and features many of the same characters and places from the first, but Dreamfall does a good enough job that you don’t need to have played The Longest Journey to appreciate Dreamfall and understand what’s going on.

Most everyone who finishes Dreamfall has a single complaint in that the game ends almost as prematurely as Halo 2. The reason being is that Dreamfall was never intended to be the end of the story, rather instead just like the end of a novel.

A sequel is in development called Dreamfall: Chapters which should resolve all remaining issues.

Pros: Excellent voice acting, excellent story, beautiful and memorable set pieces, some cleaver puzzles. Long for adventure game standards. Around 8-10 hours.

Cons: Clumsy combat system, some awful puzzles, unsatisfying ending.

8.5/10

Data

Platform: Xbox, PC

Genre: Adventure

Release Date: April 17, 2006

Devoloper: Funcom

Publisher: Aspyr Media

Developer’s notable other works: The Longest Journey, Anarchy Online

ESRB: M

Buy or skip: Buy

Monster Attack Review (PS2)

Posted in Hidden gems, Imports, PS2, Reviews on June 14, 2010 by satoshimatrix

 

The first in the Earth Defense Force Trilogy

 

Time again for a great game most in the west haven’t hard of. Introducing Monster Attack, a budget PS2 third person action game released only in Japan and Europe.

Monster Attack is the first game in a series known in Japan semi-unofficially as The Chikyū Bōeigun, or “Earth Defense Force”.

In Japan, The Chikyū Bōeigun was an early entry in D3 Publisher’s Simple 2000 series of budget titles all retailing for 2000 yen each.

Thought obscure and somewhat hard to find, The Chikyū Bōeigun was translated and brought to Europe until the new title Monster Attack, completely dropping the Earth Defense Force name for whatever reason.

Apparently, Monster Attack did well enough in Europe to warrant it’s sequel to be localized for the European gamer, but that game is for another review.

Most gamers in the west will recognize this as it looks very similar to an early Xbox 360 action game called Earth Defense Force 2017, and it should look similar: 2017 is a rather extensive remake of this game.

Being an obscure PS2 budget title with only a PAL localized version, you might be asking yourself if this simple action game is worth your time and money. Let me assure you that it is on both accounts.

Story

In the year 2017, Earth is invaded by an alien force made up of almost every ’50s monster movie clechés you can think of. Giant ants, giant spiders, robots, UFOs and yes, even Godzilla. To combat these invaders, the nations of the world band together to form a united army called the Earth Defense Force. As a lone EDF Soldier, presumably the sole survivor of a platoon, you are tasked with defending Japanese soil from the alien threat.
It’s cheesy 50’s horror movie fare. If you like classics like THEM! then you’ll fall in love with this game.

Graphics

Graphically, the game ranges from slightly below average to slightly above. Cityscapes and the monsters look decent enough, but some of the environments look bland and effects are mostly awful. The arenas for each stage are fairly large and take some time to travel across, but there are only a handful of different stages across the game’s 50 missions. To give the illusion there are more the Developers change the starting locations for each mission. However, this too soon repeats and the novelty wears off. The environments also have a lot of pop in due to the short draw distance, but I mostly fault the limited PS2 hardware for this and not the developer. Keep in mind this is a budget game afterall.

LOOKIT DAT Draw Distance!

Weapon effects look good, as do explosions. The cityscapres are fully destructible as well, but destroying buildings is rendered like throwing a bowling ball at a paper machete cutout of a building. It leaves a lot to be desired. Worst of all, Monster Attack has a real hard time maintaining a steady framerate as the action heats up in some stages. It can literally drop down to single digits at times, making the game almost unplayable during these segments. They do clear up though, so its not an ongoing issue. All this said, Monster Attack is a budget title and it sure looks like one.

Audio

The game’s audio serves to enhance the overly cheesy monster there even further. Broody horror movie-like scores fill the game’s track. I love it. The main theme is as techno sci-fi track that is just plain awesome. The rest of the background music is your typical Monster themes and they totally fit in.

Gameplay

Almost as if to apologize for the lackluster graphics, Monster Attack’s gameplay is just short of being excellent. Once you go into options and change the controls to “tactical,”  this game becomes one of the best third person shooters you’ll play on the PS2 outside Resident Evil 4.

For each mission you can carry two sets of weapons. Weapons range from machine rifles to shotguns to rocket launchers to bazaar particle cannons. Your soldier travels on foot by tilting the left stick or by using the d-pad. You aim as you would in an FPS by tilting the right stick. The shoulder buttons are used for jumping, barrel rolling, changing weapons and of course, firing. All the weapons you have have unlimited ammo and are only restricted by their reload times. You can’t attack at all while reloading so its a good idea to leave some ammo for your second weapon in case you need to quickly attack to defend yourself.

When you defeat enemies, they sometimes drop items. Items consist of small health packs that instantly restore some lost HP, armor packs, which increase your overall HP by 1 and new weapon packs. Armor isn’t added to your inventory until you successfully complete a mission, making failure even more unpleasant.

Likewise, you can’t tell what new weapons you picked up until after you complete the mission and check the gear you picked up. The weapons are pretty random, so it’s got a candy grab-bag sort of fun to seeing what you got.

The game teases you with a unique risk/reward system. There are five difficulties to play the game in, and the game will reward players with more powerful items the higher the difficulty they attempt. The most powerful weapons only appear in the hardest stages on the hardest mode called Inferno, appropriately enough.

Although the game has you mostly on foot, there are also three vehicles you can use as well – a tank, a speed bike and a helicopter. Unfortunately, you’ll soon discover these all control awful, lack power and are generally best simply ignored.

Lasting Appeal

As you play and collect armor, you increase your overall HP and gain access to stronger weapons, making the game very RPG like in a lot of ways. Knowing your actually accomplishing something every time you play goes a long way to making you want to pick up the controller again.

Availability and Price

Monster Attack can be found for around 5 Euro making it rather cheap. Only problem is finding anyone who does have it. Check around: check ebay, amazon, European friends or family. You’ll find it.

Audience

Everyone – Despite the violence, the only blood or gore to found is that of the monsters, which is a comical green spray that quickly vanishes. This game can be enjoyed by kids and adults alike.

History

In Japan, The Chikyū Bōeigun quickly became one of the most popular and successful games in the Simple 2000 series, allowing D3 Publish and Sandlot to develop a sequel which did even better.

Shortly after D3 was finished with Chikyū Bōeigun 2, they began to work on another title called Chikyū Bōeigun X, surprisingly for the Xbox 360.

Even more shocking was the fact that this game would not be a new game, but a complete remake of the first.

In 2007, The Chikyū Bōeigun X was finally released for the Xbox 360 in North American rentitled Earth Defense Force 2017, to help distinguish itself from the SNES Super Earth Defense Force game that bares nothing but the common name. Despite being a Monster Attack remake, EDF2017  made many changes including new enemies, weapons, NPC soldiers and a vastly expanded game length.

That said, Monster Attack is different enough to warrant a purchase and a place in anyone’s PS2 library.

It may be PAL only, but many new TVs can accept PAL signals and even if they can’t, you can rip the game to an .iso and then run PAL to NTSC converter software “forcing” the game into NTSC. Ah, the joys of technology.

Overall scores

Graphics 7.0 – Monster Attack is a budget game and it shows. Nothing really looks excellent but the graphics do their job well enough that the less than stunning graphics won’t bother you after a few minutes.

Audio – 8.0 A broody excellent 50’s horror movie type sound. Sound effects are used well. I just love the main menu music.

Gameplay – 8.0 – Where the game truly shines. It’s simple but fun.

Control – 8.0 – In Technical mode, the controls work like a charm.

Value – 8.0 – True, Earth Defense Force 2017 is this game, and 2017 is much more refined, but this game can be found very cheaply and is a blast to play with a friend.

Lasting Appeal 8.0 – Not the longest game nor the deepest, but Monster Attack is a great experience on the PS2. Grab a buddy and have at it with giant ants, spiders, robots and more.

Overall 8.0

Data

Platform: Playstation 2

Genre: Third Person Action Shooter

Release Date: 2004

Devoloper: D3 Publisher

Publisher: Agetec

PEGI: 12+

Buy or skip: Buy