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 RyIII's review node.

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RyIII
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PostSubject: RyIII's review node.   Tue 26 Apr 2011, 7:05 pm

Well, this is the thread where I review whatever games come to mind. these will all be games that I've played through, or at least played enough of to give an informed opinion on. I may actually take requests if they're games that I've played through at one point or could easily access and give a quick playthrough of, but for the most part, this is my show. I won't be giving numerical ratings as those tend to be both utterly contentious and even misleading at times, sometimes even totally at odds with the text of the review itself.
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Freespace 2
Developer: Volition software
Release date: 1999
Platform: PC
Genre: Space-combat shooter.
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Freespace 2 is the sequel to Descent: Freespace, a space-combat shooter created by Volition and Interplay in order to enter the void left by the seeming conclusion of the Wing Commander franchise with Wing Commander: Prophecy. While the original was certainly a competent game, the sequel takes the story, and the gameplay to new and interesting places.

The backdrop for the game is this. After the destruction of the Shivan battleship Lucifer, the formerly warring Terran and Vasudans found themselves in the same boat. The destruction of the Lucifer has cut off Earth from the rest of the Galaxy, and the Vasudan homeworld was destroyed by the Shivans. Now, thirty years later, the two races have forged an alliance, and have greatly expanded their own technologies in order to defend themselves against incursions from yet other unknown species. However, dissension in the Terran ranks about allying with a long-hated enemy has flared out into open, armed rebellion, and now the new alliance fights for its survival against enemies from within- and the Shivans are still out there, too.

Gameplay is quite familiar to anyone who has played games like Wing Commander, Freelancer, or other such games. All of the relevant information is easily accessible on the heads-up-display, including your weapons loadouts, ammunition, radar displays, objectives, and the status of major friendly and enemy targets, as well as the energy you have currently assigned to the functions of your fighter or bomber, such as guns, shields, and engines, plus the status of any enemy ship you have targeted. Flying and maneuvering is easy enough, and the interface is well-enough designed so that one could easily target an enemy warship and whatever individual turrets and systems one would like to do away with with only a few taps on the keyboard. The controls are easy to get a handle on, and don't require referencing the manual too often- the tutorials provided in-game are very thorough and cover all of the necessities for playing the game effectively. The tutorials will teach you all you need, and you'll need all that they teach.

While the ability to customize your own loadout for missions has been a staple of the genre since Wing Commander III, the Freespace series has taken it further. In addition to selecting your missiles and what ship you take out into space, you also have choice over your own primary weapons... As well as the ability to configure all of the above for all of the squadmates that are flying out with you, giving you the ability to change the composition of almost your entire fighter force on the fly to better suit your plans for tackling the mission at hand. This becomes immensely useful, especially as more craft become available in later missions. There is a rather large number of craft available throughout the game, as well, from interceptors to heavy bombers.

The missions themselves can be quite challenging, but, with a rare exception or two, never really unfair, boiling largely down to how you prioritize your presence among all of the things that demand your attention in battles that can proceed at a very hectic pace. One real triumph of the game's mission design is that it has managed to make escort missions interesting and fun, largely by turning many of such missions into battles of mutual support rather than babysitting- you take care of the bombers, and the warship's powerful weapons can help you destroy other warships or enemy fighters, and so on. On that note, large warships have real teeth in Freespace 2, often sporting powerful anti-fighter weapons like shield-piercing beams, flak guns, missile launchers, and cluster missile pods. Destroying the larger vessels requires real coordination with friendly warships and bombers.

The game presentation works well enough. The game's graphics were top-notch in 1999, and are still serviceable even nowadays. One of the major things that the original Freespace brought to the table was that warships were scaled correctly to the fighters, and the warships used by all sides are absolutely massive, creating some impressive flyovers even when in the middle of a dogfight. Battles between those warships are equally impressive, lashing out with massive beam cannons that can instantly vaporize your fighter if you stray into their path. The sound creation and editing is extremely well done, each weapon having their own unique sounds, and the anti-ship beams of each race having their own distinct sound, from the shrill whine of Terran beams to the deep rumble of Shivan weapons. Perhaps the real achievement, though, are the nebula sections, which not only cut down visibility but also your sensor range, making sudden attacks a real threat- plus ships emerge seamlessly out of the mist, with no clipping or pop up at all. perhaps the most effective use of this, though is in the mission titled "Monster in the Mist", where you have to carefully creep close to the hull of an enormous, three-and-a-half mile long Shivan warship, finding your way over and around its ridges and spines with no clue where this monster of a vessel begins or even ends.

The game structure itself is a rather linear campaign, but there are two sets of difficult special operations missions once can undertake in order to gain access to new craft that one wouldn't normally have available if one decided to pass them by, one of which is actually extremely powerful. The game does come with a tech room where you can access and replay any mission you have previously cleared, along side fluff and information about all of the vessels, friendly or enemy, that you have encountered in the game. A fair warning, though- the story ends on a cliffhanger that's unlikely to be resolved, as there was never a Freespace 3 and there won't be one in the forseeable future.

It's definitely worth playing, or at least giving a try, given that it's now about $6 on gog.com. Sinc ehte source code has been released, fans have also created the Freespace SCP mod, which adds in a great number of enhancements to the game to raise its graphics standards, including thins like enhanced lighting and textures, as well as new, high-polygon models for all of the craft in the game. It's a must for fans of the genre, or even people looking to break into it.

Intro is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khIWdolT9xY

Screenshots: (All screenshots taken from the SCP 3.6.10 version)





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PostSubject: Re: RyIII's review node.   Wed 27 Apr 2011, 1:30 pm

Kinda reminds me of Starlancer on the Dreamcast. That was great game!
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PostSubject: Re: RyIII's review node.   Mon 09 May 2011, 2:26 pm

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The Guardian Legend
Developer: Compile Software
Release date: 1988
Platform: NES
Shmup/Action RPG
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While Compile was mainly known for its large library of top-down shooters across multiple platforms, such as Zanac, the Aleste series, and MUSHA, it wasn't totally unknown for them to take the occasional foray into top-down action RPGs, such as Golvellius for the Sega Master system. Perhaps the better known one would be The Guardian Legend, released in 1988 for the NES. Hybridizing genres was fairly new in gaming at that point, and this game still stands up as one of the better examples of how to do it right.

The story is rather rudimentary, but that's largely to be expected for an NES game- there were only a few standouts in that regard during that era of console gaming. Essentially, there's a huge worldship, Naju, hurtling ceaselessly towards Earth, and if the impact didn't wreck the planet, its cargo of vicious mutants and haywire military hardware would. In order to combat this threat, Earth sends out the Guardian, a sophisticated transforming android girl to enter the worldship and find a way to stop it before it strikes Earth. While the player does come across log entries by one of the Naju scientists, these serve little more purpose than to give the player hints on how to progress, rather than as a story delivery system as such things would later be used in games such as Marathon or System Shock.

The gameplay is what one might normally expect from a sci-fi action RPG. Eight-directional movement and shooting, life meter, and so on. Unlike the original Legend of Zelda, there's a map available to the player at all times, though it only shows the shape of the area and the outlines of the rooms- there's no indicators of how the rooms connect, and things like power ups and boss rooms aren't marked, but corridor entrances are. The game world is divided into a hub area as well as the ten different sub-areas that make up the interior of the worldship itself. There are also no 'utility' items in the game, except for the keys that you win from certain bosses that open up new areas of Naju- What you do get is a staggering array of special weapons, each with three levels of power (including lightsabers of the single and double-bladed varieties), as well as the usual attack and defense up items, life extenders, and also items that increase your max 'chips'. Chips serve three purposes in this game. they act as money for buying things from the Blue Landers (Compile's mascot, really), ammo for your special weapons, and at certain thresholds, having enough chips will actually widen your basic shot. Also, it's best not to equip special weapons unless you're sure you'll use one, as having one equipped will actually reduce the number of basic shots you can have on screen from four to three, or even two for some of the bigger guns. Curiously enough the game also keeps track of score, and at certain point markers you will also get a free life extension.

The game shifts easily between its two separate modes. You even start off the game in a shooting section to get you used to it, though it is fairly standard fare on that count. You can use anything in shooting mode that you can in exploration mode, and no modifiers are made to how you take damage between modes- you sue the same life bar for both. And note how I said the Guardian is a transforming android? Yeah, she doesn't pilot a fighter craft, she is the fighter craft. Once in the main game, you enter the shooting stages through certain rooms on the overworld map. About half of these are optional, but well worth doing for the extra power-ups, but the mandatory ones require a trick to open, that is revealed in one of the computer rooms located somewhere on the map. After finishing those, however, there's a six-boss rush that you need to complete in order to actually finish, so, there's just a heads up.

There are two complaints I have about the game on the play end. the first is that there's not so much a difficulty curve as a difficulty roller-coaster or stock chart. The intro stage isn't exactly a gimme, and some bosses and stages are much tougher than others, with some bosses even requiring counter-intuitive strategies to beat without receiving an extraordinary amount of pain. The second is that the game saves progress with a password system. Not too bad nowadays, in the age of emulators, but I wish I didn't have to rely on states for a game that was made two years after Legend of Zelda or Dragon Warrior.

The graphics are done well, and even hold up against some of the titles produced later in the lifespan of the NES. While it does occasionally brush up against the sprite limits of the NES, especially against some of the more trigger-happy bosses, there are very few glitches. Enemies and sprites are quite distinct, and the environments are colored so that there are no instances of the dreaded 'blending', where the colors of the environments mask the enemy attacks. Special mention goes to the Guardian herself, however, as she is well animated, has facing sprites for all eight directions of her overworld movement, and has a smooth transformation sequence from walking to fighter mode for the shooting stages. the music on the other hand is definitely hit or miss. While it does have some quite good tracks- this is Compile after all- there are just as many forgettable ones to go along with it.

All in all, it's a game worth checking out, for at least a few reasons. For those who like top-down adventure games, for those who like well-designed shmups with a bit more meat on them, and for those who just like to call back to those magical days when a cute anime girl was allowed to carry an action game on their own.

Screenshots:











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PostSubject: Re: RyIII's review node.   Tue 10 May 2011, 5:42 pm

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Phantasy Star 4
Developer: Sega Enterprises
Release Date: 1993 (JP) 1995 (US, Europe)
Platform: Sega Genesis
Conventional RPG
-----------------------

Phantasy Star IV was developed as the last entry in the classic Phantasy Star series, to close off the story that had begin in the original entry for the Sega Master System. It had a great deal to make up for, however, as Phantasy Star III was and is still considered the low point of the series due to questionable gameplay and aesthetic design choices, and the fact that it was a gaiden game that did not resolve the cliffhanger ending at the end of Phantasy Star II. The original game was one of the few real hits the Sega Master System had, and Phantasy Star II was a superb launch title that marked the Sega Genesis as a fine platform for original development rather than just arcade ports. There was no middle ground for Phantasy Star IV- it would either be another disappointment or a grand return to old form.

Special marks do have to go to the classic Phantasy Star series's overarching story- it's a common plot device in other jRPGs that one eventually delves into the ruins and mysteries of advanced civilizations, but Phantasy Star veterans would know that the ancient high-tech remnants were the remains of the great Algo civilization, which the player would preside over the destruction of at the end of Phantasy Star II, where total collapse was the only alternative to pure annihilation. This game takes place 1,000 years after the end of Phantasy Star II, and civilization has, in some ways, recovered from the collapse, leading to a revival of the sciences and technological discovery. However, the collapse of the system-wide climate control network means that the planet Motavia is slowly dying, and outbreaks of biomonsters abound- and a special assignment concerning one of these outbreaks is where our protagonist's story begins.

It's a bit of a heresy of mine that I insist that Phantasy Star IV tied for the best RPG of the 16-bit console era (the other contender, of course, being Earthbound), even with the very understandable contenders like Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, and so on. While the game doesn't offer the same party customization as the other two games, it's a benefit to the story overall- the cast, on the whole, is just managed well by the writers, meaning that all of the characters on hand get to participate in the major story event of the moment, and characters come and go in naturalistic ways. The mandatory character death is handled in a way that I actually approve of. Rather than being a mere act of sudden, melodramatic shock value, the circumstances that lead to it seem to be a natural outgrowth of the character's established idioms up to that point, and there are still many games that could stand to learn from it. The game is laden with references to previous titles in the series, and the main party members you will have on hand for the greater part of the game are each emblematic of one the four entries in the classic franchise- Rune is the expy of Lutz from Phantasy Star I, Rika is descended from Nei's genetic heritage, so she's a reminder of Phantasy Star II, Wren is a nod to Phantasy Star III, and Chaz, the new protagonist, belongs to this entry, Phantasy Star IV. There's very much a sense of history to the game, both in the story and in the character design of the game proper.

The gameplay itself is nothing awe-inspiring, but it isn't bland either. Combat returns to the third-person, straight-on view of battle that first appeared in Phantasy Star II, and there's the familiar interface of attach/magic/item/defend. This time around, however, special abilities are divided into two pools- Techniques and Skills. Techniques draw from a character's technique points, which serve as the game's equivalent of MP, while Skills each have their own set number of uses before the character has to replenish by resting at an inn. The game uses it as one of the ways that it distinguishes androids from humans- while they can't use techniques, they have a decent package of special skills that represent their on-board equipment. Also included in this game are powerful combination attacks, which trigger when two or more characters use the proper techniques and/or skills in succession. There is also vehicle combat, though that mainly runs the same way as regular combat, with the vehicle itself doing the fighting with its own main weapons and other armaments. Because of these new divisions, characters tend to be a bit more capable than they were in earlier entries, and you won't have characters with skills that are entirely useless against whole types of enemies like you would in Phantasy Star II. Also, the grind has been greatly reduced compared to some earlier entries in the series, leading to a more fast-paced play and story experience.

The game cartridge used for Phantasy Star IV had, interestingly enough, 4 times the capacity of the model used for Phantasy Star II and III, and every bit of it shows in every part of the game's aesthetic design. The battle animations are much more smooth and 'complete', and gone is the generic battle background of Phantasy Star II. There is a whole plethora of environments now, each with their own battle background, and there are even unique ones for certain bosses in the game. Perhaps the most striking use of this space is the much greater use of comic-panel-style cutscenes for almost all of the major story events in the game. This means that the story is rendered quite beautifully from start to finish. While the story's premise, on the surface seems to be nothing new, the trick is in the telling, in which this game excels. The game is used to render environments from the mundane to the truly exotic and alien- the backdrops against which the adventure takes place do not lack in variety. The music itself is superb- probably one of the best soundtracks of that era of gaming. There is no piece that's out of place for the mood.

This game might well be worth playing even if one isn't especially familiar with the history of the series, as it can carry itself on its own merits, but it does have a great deal more meaning for those who are. Sega actually gets major props for trying to terminate a series with some amount of dignity, rather than let it stagger on for entry after entry until it had all gone stale. It is a satisfying conclusion to the classic Phantasy Star franchise.

(Ry's notes: There are couple of things I thought worth mentioning that wouldn't have fit smoothly in the main text of the review- first was that this game was originally destined for the Sega CD, and would've contained fully-animated and voiced cutscenes as well as CD-audio, but the sales of the Sega CD were so poor that Sega put the kibosh on that idea. The second is that the art for the US/European cover of the game was a piece made for the game by Boris Vallejo of all people.)

Intro found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HR_dtc3xL_c

Screenshots:











Last edited by RyIII on Sun 23 Oct 2011, 8:42 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: RyIII's review node.   Tue 10 May 2011, 7:07 pm

--------------------
Valis: The Fantasm Soldier
Developer: Telenet Japan
Release date: 1991
Platform: Sega Genesis
Action-Platformer
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There comes a troublesome time for reviewers when they realize that what they especially like isn't necessarily what is especially good.

The Valis series was the flagship franchise of the now-defunct Telenet Japan. It was their most successful property, and each entry in the classic series spawned versions across multiple platforms. I always found it morbidly amusing that the Turbo CD version of Valis II came over here before the Genesis version of Valis I, leaving gamers confused as to who these people were, what their history was together, and why they should care. This was eventually rectified a year later with the release of Valis I on the Sega Genesis, the first iteration of Valis I that was at all worth playing, with all of the previous versions crippled by the hardware limitations of their platforms and at best questionable design decisions.

As I said before in my Phantasy Star IV review, the trick isn't in the story, it's in the telling. While I'm sure that everyone here is quite familiar with the story, a recap, while unnecessary, is still a standard part of my reviewing process. Yuko Ahso, an ordinary high school girl is caught in the center of potentially catastrophic events as an odd thunderstorm is the herald of an invasion by monsters from another world. At the same time, a sword mysteriously appears in Yuko's hands and she is forced to fight for her life, being transported to the Dreamworld where she is informed that she most save both worlds from the power of King Rogles. The role of the Valis Warrioir has been thrust upon her, and she must win at all costs. While it seems standard enough, the way it plays out was quite unique even then. The idea that being able to save the world doesn't mean that you can save everyone is something that would play out again and again in the series, and would find an echo in CLAMP's wonderful Magic Knights Rayearth. The only unfortunate bit is that the cutscenes that relay the story tend to play out at an agonizingly slow pace, with no way to speed up the text other than skipping the scene entirely. this leads to a couple of cases of a five minute level being followed by a ten minute cutscene.

It is rather a blessing and a curse to say that the Genesis port of Valis I has the best gameplay in the whole of the series. The gameplay itself is fairly solid, where as the most you can usually hope for from Telenet is "inoffensive". It isn't especially inspiring either, using a powerup model found in some shmups- pick up a weapon type, and then more of that type to make that weapon stronger, and so on. Other powerups are limited to restoring your life, MP, and of course, the ever-present old-school action standard- the 1-up. Dying deprives you of any additional power you have gained for your weapons, and continuing reduces your sword back to its most basic, no-projectile level. Magic is unlocked through "Mega-Manning"- defeating the boss that possesses a particular magic, then claiming it as your own. While some of the bosses are interesting fights, there are a couple that are basically damage races, and god help you if you brought the wrong weapons to those fights. What could have been a decently balanced gameplay experience all the way through is shot in the foot by the encounter design of the second to last boss fight. As this is the gateway to one of the defining scenes of the whole series, it should have been a truly interesting and climactic boss fight. What we are left with, however, might well be one of the most intensely aggravating boss fights in the history of 16-bit gaming. While her normal pattern is challenging, but possible to mitigate the damage you take, the designers evidently thought it would be a good idea to give her a nigh-unavoidable* attack that removes roughly half of Yuko's life, making it practically impossible to win the battle afterwards. This "gotcha" earns that even the most skilled platform gamers will be unable to defeat Reiko on their first, and possibly even many subsequent attempts. This key failure of game design turns that all-important fight from something the player looks forward to into something the player just wants to get over with, and a large black mark on an otherwise decently-designed experience.

While the environments themselves tend to range from good to meh, I would say that Valis I does deserve some props for the fact hat each level has its own unique enemy set. Not a single enemy design is actually repeated throughout the whole game, not even as a palette swap. While this does not matter much, considering you'll likely be shooting for most of the game, the collision detection for Yuko's sword sprite is way, way off, requiring Yuko to get absurdly close to strike with a weapon that acts much shorter than it looks. Yuko's sprite is animated well enough, even if her sliding animation does, in its initial frames, look more like a stumble. The bosses themselves are not especially spectacular in their design, but special props goes to Rogles- the choices made in his design make him look both properly regal and monstrous in equal measure.

I would actually hesitate to recommend playing the Genesis Valis I, as its flaws take the 'quality' over quantity approach- what few there are can be quite damning to the game, especially the poor design choices that went into the Reiko fight dragging down the whole rest of the game. I would only hand it off to someone who I was sure would be able to endure the well-known 'quirks' of old-school gaming in order to get at the good elements that it does have.

(Ry's Notes: *It is, in fact, possible to avoid the Death Flash by exploiting the properties of one of Yuko's animations. There is a window in Yuko's casting animation where she is actually invulnerable to all attacks, so long as she is actually casting a spell. Timed correctly, it will allow you to muso tensei your way out of getting hit. Also, is it just me or does the monster that menaces Yuko in the intro have a very strong resemblance to Zaluga from Valis II? He has about the same design and color and he was one of Rogles's generals...)

(No screenies this time. Besides, y'all have played the games already. Smile )
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PostSubject: Re: RyIII's review node.   Wed 11 May 2011, 3:54 am

I didn't read the other reviews, but I had to read Valis review lol chu

There are very interesting things in Valis that are hard to noticed. The monsters, as you said, are unique in their designs and even their attacks and fighting style!

As for Reiko's Death Flash, I've never passed the Death Flash without being hit!
When you die, you lose your weapon power-ups, which makes defeating Reiko.. 98% impossible!
If you reached Reiko while your weapon is fully powered up, and you keep attacking her from close range, she gets 3 attacks for each button-click (forward slash projectile, upward slash projectile, and the sword itself)! The Death Flash may damage you around 75% of your HP, but if you keep attacking her and avoiding her attacks, you can win easily Smile
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PostSubject: Re: RyIII's review node.   Wed 11 May 2011, 7:26 am

evilReiko wrote:
I didn't read the other reviews, but I had to read Valis review lol chu

As for Reiko's Death Flash, I've never passed the Death Flash without being hit!
When you die, you lose your weapon power-ups, which makes defeating Reiko.. 98% impossible!
If you reached Reiko while your weapon is fully powered up, and you keep attacking her from close range, she gets 3 attacks for each button-click (forward slash projectile, upward slash projectile, and the sword itself)! The Death Flash may damage you around 75% of your HP, but if you keep attacking her and avoiding her attacks, you can win easily Smile

Actually, there is another way to beat Reiko without getting hit by the death Flash- It does require you to have a good sense of how much health she has remaining, though. When you think she's low enough, activate the flame barrier right next to her- It'sll stack so much damage on her that you'll be able to off her when she's in the middle of doing the actual casting animation, if the spell doesn't do her in immediately. It's still really tricky to do, but if you do it right it allows you to win even if you have a Lvl 1 weapon.
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PostSubject: Re: RyIII's review node.   Wed 11 May 2011, 8:10 am

RyIII wrote:

Actually, there is another way to beat Reiko without getting hit by the death Flash- It does require you to have a good sense of how much health she has remaining, though. When you think she's low enough, activate the flame barrier right next to her- It'sll stack so much damage on her that you'll be able to off her when she's in the middle of doing the actual casting animation, if the spell doesn't do her in immediately. It's still really tricky to do, but if you do it right it allows you to win even if you have a Lvl 1 weapon.

Shocked interesting!!
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PostSubject: Re: RyIII's review node.   Wed 11 May 2011, 8:44 am

evilReiko wrote:
I didn't read the other reviews, but I had to read Valis review lol chu

There are very interesting things in Valis that are hard to noticed. The monsters, as you said, are unique in their designs and even their attacks and fighting style!

As for Reiko's Death Flash, I've never passed the Death Flash without being hit!
When you die, you lose your weapon power-ups, which makes defeating Reiko.. 98% impossible!
If you reached Reiko while your weapon is fully powered up, and you keep attacking her from close range, she gets 3 attacks for each button-click (forward slash projectile, upward slash projectile, and the sword itself)! The Death Flash may damage you around 75% of your HP, but if you keep attacking her and avoiding her attacks, you can win easily Smile

I never had to many problems beating Reiko ---other then the Turbo Duo version scratch . But it's like RyIII said just use your flame ring when she get's ready to use it and presto you're safe...also you might want to be at or near full health when Reiko does use Death Flash cause it can deal great damage to you...or you can just keep wacking her and she'll go down as she tries to use her spell Cool .
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PostSubject: Re: RyIII's review node.   Thu 12 May 2011, 5:34 pm

The show must go on!
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P.N. 03
Devloper: Capcom
Release Date: 2003
Platform: Nintendo Gamecube
3rd-person shooter
--------------------

Speaking of games I like that I would never defend as good...

P.N. 03 was one of a set of games that Capcom had announced that would bring Capcom back in Nintendo's court in a big way. The games were originally dubbed the "Capcom Five", and P.N. 03 was the first of the games to be released, the other four being Viewtiful Joe, Killer7, Resident Evil 4, and the unreleased Dead Phoenix. While Capcom made a big show of dedicating itself to development for the Gamecube, only resident Evil 4 performed up to expectations. While there were certainly reasons for this, one likely being that Resident Evil was still a popular franchise while the others were new and unknown properties. However, unlike the other games that were released, P.N. 03 was followed by a trail of regrets by everyone involved- The reviewers for having to play it, the gamers for paying full price for it, ans Shinji Mikami for not spending more time and effort on it. It was probably the biggest flop of the four games that were released, barely managing to match the sales of Killer7, likely the most arthaus video game ever made, considering the expectations that went into both.

The story is something on the minimal side, and is mainly received from the manual. Shinji Mikami said that he wanted it to be like an "old Nintendo game" in certain respects, and this does seem to be one of them. Essentially, in the future, the defense of human colonies in outer space has become impractical to control from Earth. So, a contractor, Computer Arms, Management Systems, created and designed combat robots for defense. In the usual way, the robots have gone utterly haywire, so a mysterious "client" contacts freelance mercenary Vanessa Z. Schneider in order to clean up the whole mess after the robots have already killed numerous colonists. her particular tool is the powerful 'Aegis' series of battlesuits, up for the task of destroying the machine revolt. The story is only minimally supported in game, via transmissions from the "client", but those are mostly in the form of mission updates.

The gameplay is of the 3rd-person shooting variety, but it will likely seem 'off' to anyone who had played Capcom's previous foray into that genre, Devil May Cry. While the game is often lumped in with the phrase 'run-and-gun', the 'and' in the phrase would more appropriately be replaced with 'or', as one cannot perform normal movement while shooting. Vanessa is limited to taking dodge actions, performed with some of the shoulder and face buttons, so the game places a great deal of emphasis on timing and positioning, basically expecting the player to be a seemingly contradictory swift and methodical in their actions when clearing the rooms throughout the game. This rather odd control scheme does take some getting used to and is a bit jarring considering it flies in the face of most reliable conventions for the genre. All of Vanessa's suits use the same basic shot attack, but each suit also has a set of super attacks that draw off of a separate energy bar that sits just above Vanessa's life meter. These attacks have different properties. Some spawn multiple homing shots, another fires off a destructive burst centered on Vanessa, and so on. Using these properly is the key to both offense and defense, as while these attacks do large amounts of damage, they also render Vanessa entirely invincible while the attack animation plays out. Destroying enemies in quick succession runs up the combo number, which is vital for high scores. The combo system keeps track of the total points gained from destroying enemies, the number of enemies destroyed, and then multiplies one by the other when the time runs out or Vanessa moves to a new room. For example, if Vanessa destroys ten enemies worth a total of 800 points, the total score she would get from the combo chain is 8,000.

The score does serve a purpose other than making the player feel all awesome n' stuff, as the points you earn from missions are used to upgrade the suits you have as well as buy new suits entirely. You can not only upgrade the parameters of the various suits, but unlock more energy drives for them. There are also 'trial' missions one can undergo in order to build up your score and upgrade your suits for the generally more difficult story missions, so you're never cut out of being able to try all of the buyable suits in the game. There are, naturally, a pair of secret suits obtained by fulfilling certain conditions. Just a word- this is not an easy game.

Being the total nerd for powersuits that I am, any discussion of the game's presentation has to start with Vanessa herself. Vanessa herself is really swank- her movements are smooth and natural, despite the fact that they were done without the aid of motion-capture. Vanessa herself never really stands still, always tapping her heel and bobbing her head a bit, presumably to the soundtrack(?). Aside from Vanessa herself, though, there isn't much especially memorable about the rest of the presentation. The music tends towards the generic techno/trance, with not really even a single standout piece that comes to mind. The environments are slick at first glance, but fairly repetitive and bland. Many, many rooms are re-used a number of times in the indoor areas, and there is only one use of outdoor areas, which is quite a shame. this is not only because of the irregular, unpredictable room setups, but also because there are some nice sandstorm effects to go with it. Let it not be said that the enemies do not match the environments in this game, as the designs are functional and well-animated, but really lack anything truly distinctive. Considering that there are only ten enemy varieties in a game with eleven story missions and numerous more Trial missions, the game really lacks anything to surprise the player once they have made it about halfway through the game. Aside from the bosses, of course, which, while impressively enormous, tend to lack anything else to make them especially memorable- an oddity, considering that Mikami's Resident Evil 4 was packed with exciting, interesting encounters.

Overall, P.N. 03 is a kernel of awesome wrapped in layers of apathy. if the same amount of care had been taken with this as with Resident Evil 4 or Viewtiful Joe, it might well have been an excellent, stylish and sexy sci-fi shooter, but what we are really left with is a good part of a game, a second draft seemingly left unfinished by either accident or design. There are things to like, and things definitely not to like. I enjoy it myself, but I wouldn't call it a 'good' game, as it has too much missing from its play and presentation to make it a really interesting or memorable experience. It's probably dirt-cheap by now, so if you end up trying it and not liking it, at least you won't be out too much cash.

(RyIII's notes: I don't think I have the critical faculties required for reviewing Killer7, as that game is a goddamn trip- You only really know what its like when you've been down that road yourself, and no one likes looking at other people's slides.)

Screenshots (shamelessly stolen from other sources):












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PostSubject: Re: RyIII's review node.   Fri 13 May 2011, 7:06 am

P.N. 03 was an ok game I guess eh . Just becarful around the large Plasma Cannons on higher difficulty settings---they can wipe you out in one hit ow .
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PostSubject: Re: RyIII's review node.   Fri 13 May 2011, 7:23 am

Lord Adrian wrote:
P.N. 03 was an ok game I guess eh . Just becarful around the large Plasma Cannons on higher difficulty settings---they can wipe you out in one hit ow .

Actually, they can do that on any difficulty setting if you take a direct hit- the beams have different damage values for the edges and the middle.
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PostSubject: Re: RyIII's review node.   Fri 13 May 2011, 7:39 am

RyIII wrote:
Lord Adrian wrote:
P.N. 03 was an ok game I guess eh . Just becarful around the large Plasma Cannons on higher difficulty settings---they can wipe you out in one hit ow .

Actually, they can do that on any difficulty setting if you take a direct hit- the beams have different damage values for the edges and the middle.

I remember getting hit on the Easy setting and surviving at least one direct hit scratch ---the end results are still quite painful ow .
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PostSubject: Re: RyIII's review node.   Sat 04 Jun 2011, 11:35 pm

Hey, these are really nice reviews. Good choice of games to write about, too -- and I hadn't ever noticed the MD Valis / Zaluga connection before.
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PostSubject: Re: RyIII's review node.   Wed 22 Jun 2011, 4:26 pm

zigfried wrote:
Hey, these are really nice reviews. Good choice of games to write about, too -- and I hadn't ever noticed the MD Valis / Zaluga connection before.

Yes- one amusing bit about Valis's US release schedule is that we got a version of Valis 2 (the CD version) about a year before we got any version of Valis 1- imagine the confusion! Anyway, more reviews are forthcoming.
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PostSubject: Re: RyIII's review node.   Wed 22 Jun 2011, 4:46 pm

----------------------
Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar
Developer: Origin Systems
Release Date: 1985
Platform: MS DOS PC, Apple II series, Commodore 64, NES, Sega Master system, PC8801, PC9801, MSX, etc.
Conventional(?) RPG
----------------------

(Note: This review is based on the version that originally appeared on the computer, not the NES version, which had many significant gameplay changes)

It's rather difficult to review a game-changer like Ultima IV, largely because, in some ways, it is still rather unique as far as computer RPGs go. It was a major shift in RPG design at the time, dispensing with plot conventions that still persist in most RPGs that are still even made today. The methodology behind designing and playing the game required an entirely new mindset on the part of players in order to grasp, and created what would later become the cornerstone of many games outside of its home genre- the dynamic morality axis.

Richard Garriott, known mainly to his D&D buddies as Lord British (a pseudonym he would adopt for the purpose of game design) had come off of three successful games to his credit, all of which had what is essentially the most basic of all RPG plots- bad guy goes to take over the world, go kill him. He decided that he was just plain done with that manner of story, and decided to make up something new for the next installment. So, the story ended up as follows: After the defeat of the last dark lord, the world of Britannia was finally at some measure of relative peace. The great armies of the dark have been vanquished, the world was no longer threatened by conquest from ultimate evils, and monsters, while still threatening, were no longer organized under some greater malevolence. However, the lingering question on everyone's mind was... What now? So, the ruling monarch of the world, Lord British, proclaimed the Quest of the Avatar- a quest to become enlightened in the eight heroic virtues and become a guiding beacon for others to live good and worthy lives, culminating in descending into the Great Stygian Abyss and retrieving the Codex of Infinite Wisdom from the bowels of the world.

The entire game revolves around the eight virtues (Honesty, Compassion, Valor, Justice, Honor Sacrifice, Spirituality, Humility) and character creation is no exception- rather than choose a class and assign points, the game presents you with a series of ethical dilemmas, from which you choose to uphold one of two virtues. This continues until you narrow down your choices to one virtue, which affects not only your starting class, but starting location, as each of the eight major towns in the game are not only associated with a virtue, but a profession. So, if your final choice was, say, Honesty, you'd start as a mage near the town of Moonglow, city of honesty. You will eventually recruit members of each of the other seven playable professions, and, in fact, it's mandatory to do so in order to finish the game. However, it's actually advisable to do a good chunk of the quest solo, as random encounters scale upwards in difficulty and density the more companions you have, plus you also have to keep track of food as well as gold and other resources. The more companions you have, the faster your food goes away as you travel.

The "other resources" in question happen to be your reagents, which are ingredients for preparing spells. There are eight in all, and only six of them can be bought- the others must be found in particular places on the overworld map. However, even buying reagents is something of a test of virtue.

The game keeps track of your progress on the path of virtue, and since there are eight different virtues, that means there are, in fact, eight different morality meters that you have to keep track of and max out over the course of the game, and all of them have different tests associated with them. of course, this means that, in order to be a virtuous soul, you have to refrain from a good deal of traditional RPG behavior, such as looting everyone else's treasure when you come into a new town, mercilessly killing off innocent woodland creatures in the field, cheating blind shopkeepers, and so on. Considering the nature of the quest, you have to be mindful of your actions all the time, and even be careful of how you talk to people with the conversation tool.

Even with all of these things to keep track of, the gameplay itself is fairly simple- as mentioned above, all of the relevant commands fit on the game's reference card, and they're all fairly self-explanatory. Combat encounters are handled on a tiled field similar to the overworld travel, and is profoundly straightforward, with commands consisting basically of attacking, using magic, or movement, all of which are handled with only a couple of keystrokes. Talking to people is handled through a conversation parser that allows single keywords, so puzzling your way through what people do and don't know is fairly quick and easy, though you will be having a ton of conversations throughout the game. Every town has its own associated runestone and mantra for using the appropriate shrine of virtue where you gain enlightenment in that virtue when you've maxed it out, plus there are ton of necessary magical weapons and artifacts scattered around the game world whose location can only be gained from interacting thoroughly with the NPCs. One of the unfortunate aspects of this game, however, is that actually finding the in-game locations of these items is extremely difficult and time-consuming without the use of an item called the sextant, which requires you to select an invisible purchase item at the theives' guild shops.

While much of the general combat is easy enough, due to the forgiving, and one might say, shallow combat system, the dungeons in this game are real ball-busters if you don't know what you're in for, and sometimes still are even if you do. Unlike random fights, the actual room encounters in dungeons are fixed and do not scale with party size, and they aren't especially easy to navigate without the use of magical aids. they are categorically not places you go for loot, grinding, or without a damn good reason. The final dungeon of the game, the Great Stygian Abyss, is very easily one of the most difficult final dungeons ever created for a video game RPG, and cannot be overcome without extremely extensive preparation both in levels and magic- it's actually rather difficult to even just get there.

Still, though, even with all of the innovations, this is very much an old-school computer RPG that is not without its lumps. Even if you know what you have to do and where everything generally is, it is still a rather time-consuming game to complete, as there's just so much that needs to be done before one can even consider tackling the final challenges of the game. The ever-valuable sextant could cut down on it, but even purchasing that is a bit of a puzzle, as you have to choose the fourth option at a shop that only lists three items. The combat system is about as deep as an inflatable kiddie pool, and the difficulty of monsters seems to revolve around whether they possess the sleep spell or not. Most offensive magic is useless outside of the instant-death dealing type. Grinding virtue can be rather repetitive, especially for those that have no way to raise them quickly and/or passively (Honesty being the big culprit, here).

Ultimately, it's a game that's at least worth trying out. The original game files are available freely, and there is a source port called xu4 that allows one to easily play the game on modern systems without fiddling with DOS or Apple II emulators.

(No screenshots yet, as I'm currently working with a new computer setup.)

(Ry's notes: Seriously, don't cheat the blind woman. there's only one thing worse for your virtues, and that's using an evil artifact of incredibly power to destroy all life in a vicinity. you need to destroy that item as part of finishing the game.)
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PostSubject: Re: RyIII's review node.   Fri 24 Jun 2011, 2:56 pm

RyIII wrote:
----------------------
Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar
Developer: Origin Systems
Release Date: 1985
Platform: MS DOS PC, Apple II series, Commodore 64, NES, Sega Master system, PC8801, PC9801, MSX, etc.
Conventional(?) RPG
----------------------

there's only one thing worse for your virtues, and that's using an evil artifact of incredibly power to destroy all life in a vicinity. you need to destroy that item as part of finishing the game.)

Awww you mean you can't have a weapon of mass destruction and be an Avatar...I'd rather be evil heh heh heh evil lol .
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PostSubject: Re: RyIII's review node.   Sun 26 Jun 2011, 9:53 pm

Lord Adrian wrote:

Awww you mean you can't have a weapon of mass destruction and be an Avatar...I'd rather be evil heh heh heh evil lol .

The benefits don't show up until Ultima V. In that game your companions can be one of three classes, Fighter, Rogue, and Wizard. The Avatar is a unique class that fights as well as a Fighter, can disarm traps and locks as well as a Rogue, and can cast as well as a Wizard.


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PostSubject: Re: RyIII's review node.   Sun 26 Jun 2011, 10:03 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-An abandoned gold mine that has been infested by five monster moles, each of which insists that they are the third strongest among them.

And more of that sort of thing, really. It is worthwhile to talk to every NPC, just to see what ridiculous things might come out of their mouths.

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

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

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

Screenshots:













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PostSubject: Re: RyIII's review node.   Tue 28 Jun 2011, 4:51 am

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

Spoiler:
 
]

I'm currently watching a Let's Play of Earthbound from BCSBuster....it's kinda an interesting game.
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PostSubject: Re: RyIII's review node.   Thu 20 Oct 2011, 6:43 pm

-------------
Sakura Wars- So Long My Love
Release date: 2004 (JP), 2010 (NA)
Developers: Red entertainment, Sega
Platform: PS2, Wii
Visual novel/Tactical RPG.
-------------

Sakura Wars: So Long my Love, is actually the fifth installment of the Sakura Wars series, known as some of the best games that were never localized. This decision lies mainly at the feet of Sega of America chief Bernie Stolar, who was behind the notoriously poor launch of the Sega Saturn in the US, and was certainly not helped by letting out statements such as "The Saturn is not our Future". While the Saturn has its defenders, as well as some very good games in its library, the Saturn's fall and fall in America was largely the result of both mismanagement and Sega's poor reputation for system-extending gimmicks like the 32X, which was the result of miscommunication between Sega of America and Sega of Japan. However, the Sakura Wars games were one of the most heavily-imported game series for quite a long time, and this installment is the first one to be officially localized, so everyone could get a look what all of the fuss was about.

So, Sakura Wars takes place in an alternate steampunk 1920's where the First World War was interrupted by a massive outbreak of malevolent supernatural forces. This led to the creation of a number of mecha teams (universally masquerading as theatrical troupes due to Japanese pun)* around the world in order to guard against the new menace. This game sees Shinjiro Taiga, Japanese naval officer and the nephew of Ichiro Ogami, protagonist of the first four games, reassigned to America by his uncle in order to bolster the New York Combat Revue, the American branch of the anti-demon forces. Presumably Ogami didn't want to go because of the shenanigans involved in his own foreign travels. Arriving at the Broadway theater where the team is housed, he soon finds himself as an usher as a day job, and pulled into the defense of New York against the resurgent demonic forces under the command of Oda Nobunaga- However, considering his assignment, managing his teammates might well be the tougher part of his stay in New York City.

The gameplay is actually divided into two separate and distinct modes, Adventure and Battle. Since Adventure mode takes up the lion's share of time in the game, that gets covered first. Adventure mode is basically time between battles, spent either finding out what the enemy's doing, solving team problems, or Shinjiro generally just shooting the breeze with the various colorful members of his immediate team or the other denizens of Alt-history 1920's New York City. This mode consists entirely of navigating New York City and engaging in social interactions which is handled with visual-novel dialogue choices with Sakura Wars's particular flair, the Live Interactive Picture System (LIPS). All dialogue sequences and Action Events that mean anything are timed, meaning that you have a limited time to choose Shinjiro's responses, and what you say matters. Proper dialogue choices increase the trust between Shinjiro and his teammates, and increased trust affects the battle stats of Shinjiro's ladyfriends as well as the strength of their combination attacks, and sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all. Aside from actual dialogue choices, there are times you can affect how strongly Shinjiro says something, and other variations that the system is used for, from sword fights to jazz sessions and so on. There are plenty of events to find in New York City, and odds are that they won't all be found in a single playthrough- however, the game's length makes it suited for replays. It is here that the localization really gets a chance to shine. The game is genuinely funny, and the dialogue responses required to gain trust are rarely counterintuitive when the character's overall personality is taken into account. Aside from a couple of head-scratching name changes in the English version (Plum Spaniel -> Cherry Cocker. WTF?), the writing for the game is rather top notch, getting across the ridiculousness of the things Shinjiro has to deal with, not the least of which is his boss, Michael Sunnyside, who has complete and utter trust in Shinjiro to be able to do whatever ludicrous things he asks, among which are winning a mock trial to decide the fate of Harlem against a top-flight professional lawyer, or restoring his terminally ill niece's will to live. While this isn't the traditional between-mission scene for a game of this type, it's not something the player will find themselves skipping through because it is still an interactive and important part of the gameplay.

The second part of gameplay are the mecha battles. while there are only 11 or 12 of these in he whole game, and it's a little while before you even get to the first, that does not make them quick or necessarily easy. Each o them is quite involved, usually involving more than just "smash the bad guys", and each chapter is capped with a powerful boss mech that would be an endgame encounter in any other mecha tactics game. Because you can't customize or grind, battles are more about making do with what the game gives you rather than your gear or levels, the later battles more on the level of tactical puzzles than anything. These battles are turn-based and use free, gridless movement. all machines have their own attack ranges for their weapons, and attacks hit anything in that range, meaning that all machines can hit multiple enemies with each attack. All mecha have a set amount of action points, which are used for everything- movement, how many regular attacks they can string together, self-healing, and super moves which are usable when their super meter is filled up by combat. pilots can also do combination attacks, which hit all enemies that lie between the two mecha, with the damage modified by the pilots' trust level with each other. The player also gets access to strategies, which affect how much AP certain actions take, as well as team stats, and what actions are possible. For example, setting the strategy to Offense increases the damage pilots do as well as the rate they increase their super meter, but defense (a non-trivial ability) takes more AP, and self-healing is a forbidden action. Add to this that battlefields will often have multiple areas to transition through (including the sky, for air battles), and you end up with combats that are more complex than they might initially seem. However, because the game gives you almost all of your tools and huge, impressive bosses right from the get-go, the tactics portion of the game does not feel like an afterthought.

The game's 3D graphics are nothing at all special, as most of the effort in the art department was focused on the dialogue and interaction scenes. However, 1920's New York City is wonderfully rendered, and as a frequent visitor to the Big Apple myself, quite accurate. The designers got things correct down to the street level, and resisted the temptation to include the Empire State Building at a time when it didn't exist. Shinjiro even arrives through Ellis Island.

I have to say that this game is refreshing in another way- the fact that there are many, many scenes in the game that have nothing to do with leading up to or winding down from robot battles, and are mainly dedicated to just doing "normal people" things in 1920's New York, like kicking back with one of the team at a Harlem jazz club, actually helping out with the day-to-day stuff of running a Broadway theater, seeing the sights, learning to make coffee, and all that sort of thing that you just really don't get in most games, or at least in not nearly the same amount that one finds in Sakura Wars. It creates a feeling that there's more to the world at large than just being a conveyance from battle to battle, which one does not find all that often in tactical RPGs.

So, what's all the fuss about? Quite a bit, it seems.

(Ry's notes: A good chunk of the dialogue is voice acted, and the premium edition contains 2 game discs, one with the Japanese voice acting and one with the English voice acting. Both are pretty nice, actually.)

*The pun in question, as I've heard it, is that the words for "theater troupe" and "assault force" are spelled differently and pronounced the same.

Screenshots (Shamelessly ripped from other sources):















And, as a Bonus- The intros to all five Sakura Wars games.


Last edited by RyIII on Thu 20 Oct 2011, 8:15 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: RyIII's review node.   Thu 20 Oct 2011, 7:40 pm

I liked some of those pictures specially the guy talking about the woman's "assets" (Talking about one's assets in a sexual manner That a paddlin---no wait that's sexuall harassment lol ). The other is the choice dialoge "Tell her goat bites can be fatal". I would love to see what happends if you choose that lol.
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PostSubject: Re: RyIII's review node.   Sun 08 Jan 2012, 1:02 am

I deleted my old review because I actually felt a bit guilty about posting about this game before fully completing all of the routes, but now that's over with, I'm providing a revision to y'all.

I try to retain some professional distance when reviewing a game on its own merits, but it's really hard for me to maintain that distance in this review. I see a great deal of people on gaming sites talking about what they want out of games and how it's never given to them. KS ended up being a game that I didn't know that I always wanted, so I may rave just a little. But if I didn't, then it really wouldn't be an honest review about how I feel about this game.

With that in mind, let's try this again.
--------------
Of course, that budding feeling of friendship goes away every time Rin opens her mouth.
Rin: Can I listen to your heartbeat?
--------------
Katawa Shoujo (Lit. "Disability Girls")
Release date: 2012 (NA)
Developer: 4Leaf Studios
Platform: PC
Visual Novel.

This may be the hardest review I've ever had to write, but here goes.

In 2000, a doujin artist going by the name of RAITA did a little annotated sketch in the back of one of his circle's offerings, perhaps as a bit of a joke. It outlined, in a rough form, the idea for a dating-sim taking place at an academy for the physically disabled, perhaps just to see what the reactions of others might be. Eventually, this image was colored and scanned.

In roughly 2006-7, the image made its way to 4chan, as has every image ever put on a computer ever, and by that passage made it all the way to /v/. Some people then made a single, absolute decision: "We must make this game."

Gathering a team of 21 artists, writers, and programmers from around the world, the game went through a full restart, five demo versions, and numerous rewrites, and a five-year development process. The demos of this upcoming visual novel garnered an incredible response, including invites for the group to Comiket and Retaisai, and Japanese fans even putting together a fan-made translation patch for the game itself. Just a few days ago, the game was finally released. Was the end result worth it? Well, let's take a look.

What really got me the first time I played this game was that it largely opens in the same way that most visual novels end. High school student Hisao Nakai has received a note from a girl that he kinda likes to come outside after school and meet her in the snow. He has some vague ideas what this means, and his suspicions are realized when this girl, Iwanako, starts to confess her true feelings for him. The tension of the whole thing starts to get to him. His chest starts pounding, his heart races... And then stops. Hisao Nakai, teenaged high-school student, has just suffered a heart attack. He spends four months nearly bed-ridden in a hospital as he receives operations and few visitors outside of his parents. At his release, though, he finds out that he can't really attend a normal school anymore due to his serious arrhythmia, so he has been transferred to Yamaku Academy, a well-funded boarding school built to cater to the physically disabled. Armed with a list of medications as long as his arm, a bum ticker, and no clue, Hisao now has to navigate a new school where he has no real idea how to react or behave- but he might just make it out all right. Maybe even better than all right. I assumed that the authors of the game couldn't really resist the idea in am at least semi-romantic VN of a protagonist that could die of a literally broken heart.

Another of the reasons I found this difficult to review is because of the gameplay aspect- in that there isn't really much of one to begin with. You see, these kinds of games are generally divided into two types- Dating Sims and Visual Novels. Dating sims have things like tracked stats, time management, and academic performance as core parts of the gameplay. Visual Novels do not. This is a Visual Novel, which means that gameplay is more like a choose-your-own-adventure book from the days of yore. It's broken down into "decision points", where you have a choice in what your character says or does. In Act 1, these decision points affect which girl's story Hisao gets entangled in, and after that, the choices determine whether you get one of the good or bad endings for that girl's route. That's it, nothing more to it. the majority of the decision points occur in act 1, with the rest spread across the three arcs of a particular character's story. While this does mean there is a certain lack of interactivity, it does make going back and fixing your decisions if you get a bad end much easier- there's also a feature that lets you skip quickly through text you've already encountered. this is for the best, as it is sometimes rather difficult to intuit which type of decisions will net you the good ending, and on one of the paths this is rather deliberate- however, there are basic clues given in how you end up on that particular girl's path in the first place. It must be repeated, though, that the gameplay portion is exceedingly minimalist, to the point that some might well just call it a VN rather than refer to it as a game in any capacity. Expect to do a whole lot of reading, but at least you'll be going through writing that's better than mine. Wink Your completion time will really depend on how fast you read, so while it didn't take me a huge amount of time- roughly 20 hours or so- it may take a bit longer for others.

The graphics are generally meant for a different use in VN's than in standard titles, and in this game they mainly consist of photography-based backdrops populated in the foreground by the character(s) that are currently being interacted with. there are, of course, special splash or character screens for significant events. Despite the fact that the characters were drawn by a number of different artists, the general aesthetic is quite unified, so none of the characters are all that jarring when compared to others drawn by different artists that worked on the game. What's most important is that each girl has a wide range of physical and facial expressions that are applied throughout the game, which I wish was applied in more games more often (Seriously, thousands of polygons and advanced 3D modeling and all you can manage is a scowl of generic rage?). The game even has animated scenes once you move onto one of the girls' stories after act one, quite an accomplishment for a fan project, more so because they are done well. No Voice Acting, which might well be for the best. If I ended up sounding a bit like an art critic there, it was rather necessary- there is no other way to describe the game's art and use of art, when it possibly even more important in this game than it is in even most action games because they are in absolute service to telling the story, not a spectacle in their own right.

The main thing that the game relies on for it's impact, then, is the story. There are five separate paths that once can end up on after the first act, and each one is both distinct and short enough that the game will get multiple playthroughs. While one of them is actually fairly breezy, there are a couple that are rather wrenching, even if- especially if you are making the right decisions. The game is not without its humor, to be certain, and it is, hands down, some of, if not the best writing I've seen in a game. It also avoids a good many of the common character stereotypes associated with the VN genre (being overprotective of the shy burn victim is the fast track to a BAD END on her path), but also with portrayals of the disabled in entertainment in general. In this game they are neither helpless creatures to be pitied, nor are they some kind of angelic saintlike creatures that are models of absolute virtue and inspiration. They're people, with their own feuds and vices and feelings and outlooks and whatever. The distinct tone and theme of each story means that you won't be playing through a chapter and feel like you're treading old ground. Because most of the girls are paired up with each other as friends, playing through certain character's routes will cause you to pass through intersecting events from another character's route, with possibly differing results- such as, say, which one of them gets sloshed from drinking too much at a birthday party. perseverance is the absolute key here, as even when things may look bleak, it doesn't necessarily mean you're on the track for the bad ending. don't give up if it looks bad. The writing for the ancillary characters is also excellent, and some of them are as complicated and interesting as the main cast of the game, and there were times that that I found myself wishing that certain characters got more screentime, or even their own route (Miki).

Was it worth the wait? I think so. If you can get past the initial shock of the premise, and the fact that it's rather non-traditional, there's really quite a bit to like, even if it's just a look at a different kind of game. And it's totally free.

And, to take off my reviewer cap for a moment, while I wasn't affected as hard by this game as some people seem to have been, at the very least, it has made me start to think rather seriously about what I really want to see in other video games. When I get my hands on a new game, I usually still play the other games I have on hand, but in the time I was playing this I really didn't play anything else but a bit of Marathon for old times' sake- I couldn't really bring myself to find any other games interesting while I was thinking about what was going on in my run on Katawa Shoujo. This has never at all happened to me before in about 25 years of video gaming. It's an odd one, but something I wanted to share with you guys.

(Ry's notes: Just so you know, there is a bit of H-content in the game. No, it doesn't make disabilities into a fetish, nor is it a focal point of the game, and it takes up a rather tiny portion of the story when it happens. In fact, the H-content can even be turned off entirely in the options menu, if the idea makes anyone too uncomfortable. Oh, and LordAdrian, this could easily run even on your ridiculous computer. Smile I also took a whole lot of screenshots.)

Screenies, click to open:
 
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PostSubject: Re: RyIII's review node.   Sun 08 Jan 2012, 11:34 am

RyIII wrote:
Oh, and LordAdrian, this could easily run even on your ridiculous computer. Smile I also took a whole lot of screenshots.)

Meh games like these aren't really my cup of tea but the art work is nice Razz . As for my computer----it's starting to get on my last nerve. I lost my Paint Shop Program because it didn't want to run the software for some reason. Whenever I get a new PC or MAC, I'm taking this piece of shit computer out in my front yard, load up my .357 magnum and go target practicing on it.
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PostSubject: Re: RyIII's review node.   Mon 09 Jan 2012, 12:33 pm

Lord Adrian wrote:

Meh games like these aren't really my cup of tea but the art work is nice Razz . As for my computer----it's starting to get on my last nerve. I lost my Paint Shop Program because it didn't want to run the software for some reason. Whenever I get a new PC or MAC, I'm taking this piece of shit computer out in my front yard, load up my .357 magnum and go target practicing on it.

Put the video of you going Old Yeller on your computer on youtube, 10,000 instant hits guaranteed. Smile

On another note, I'm going to have to hang up the reviewer hat for a while. I had to actually revise that last review, and I still wasn't able to do it to my satisfaction, and I'm finding myself unable to hold interest in playing other games for more than 5-10 minutes after finishing up KS. I need to go back to the beginning and have a long, hard think about what I actually want from video games. not just what I'd want to see from KS in others, but really questioning my own assumed preferences. I have a feeling it'll make me a much better reviewer.


Last edited by RyIII on Fri 13 Jan 2012, 11:40 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: RyIII's review node.   Tue 10 Jan 2012, 1:33 am

RyIII wrote:
Lord Adrian wrote:

Meh games like these aren't really my cup of tea but the art work is nice Razz . As for my computer----it's starting to get on my last nerve. I lost my Paint Shop Program because it didn't want to run the software for some reason. Whenever I get a new PC or MAC, I'm taking this piece of shit computer out in my front yard, load up my .357 magnum and go target practicing on it.

Put the video of you going Old Yeller on your computer on youtube, 10,000 instant hits guaranteed. Smile



Only differance is that I'll be sheading tears of joy and satifation, not over the loss of something I loved. If I get a new PC it's going to be Mac, I've had it with pc. I saw a mac at Best Buy looked amazing but it had a price tag of $1,400.
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PostSubject: Re: RyIII's review node.   Sat 14 Jan 2012, 11:40 am

Well, it appears that there is something I can still do.

------------
Valis II
Release date: 1989
Developer: Telenet Japan
Platform: Sharp X68000
Action-platformer
------------

Telenet japan is the classic example of a company whose reach exceeded its grasp. Whatever they tried to do with their games never struck the proper nerve to catapult them alongside the high-standing game developers like Capcom, Konami, and others, even back when they were all fairly new and not nearly the entrenched superdevs they are today. Telenet simply lacked the game design chops to achieve what it set out to do, and the solid games it did produce often seemed to be the product of accident rather than corporate competence. When it came to the creation of a sequel to the original Valis (1989), it cannot be said that they didn't at least dare greatly, whatever the final result may have been.

The story of this version of Valis is rendered as it usually is, with semi-animated cutscenes at the beginning and end of the game and between levels. The first and last cutscenes of this version of the game actually have voice acting attached to it this time around, a first for the series at this point. While the Sharp X68000 was an impressive machine for its time, it still had its limitations, but the animators for these cutscenes were able to put in minor but effective details that added more weight to the scenes within those limitations. Such as, for example, the single drop of sweat that runs off of Yuko's chin after she awakens from her nightmare in the beginning of the game. the actual plot is as follows. Not too long after the death of Lord Rogles in the previous game, Yuko remains troubled. In her dreams, she sees apparitions of her dead friend, Reiko, warning her that that yet more danger to the worlds has arisen, and that message is followed by the appearance of a vague yet unquestionably terrifying specter in the darkness of Yuko's mind. She awakens with a start, but her train of thought is interrupted by thew appearance of a very real, flesh and blood monster, which forces her to take up the Valis sword once more and sort out what's what.

The story of this game is like an ancient, classical edifice- impressive at first glance, but filled with cracks on closer examination. While the main villain of the game, Cruel King Megas, is quite well-set up as a terrifying presence through the first couple of cutscenes, it turns out he is far more effective in hs role when he isn't on the screen. When he does appear, his over-the-top grandstanding is almost too much to take seriously, and a number of his lines seem more like they were taken from 4chan regulars than the words of the unquestioned master of the dark lands. While Yuko's struggles are shown well in her manner of dialogue, she is, at times, almost unforgivably dense, even when things are being spelled out to her as clear as day- the only think Zaluga might have done to explain the situation in Vecanti more clearly was to draw a picture. While there is an attempt to inject some genuinely moving scenes (the one after level 4 is my personal favorite), other aspects of the story are marred by a villain with as much depth as a cardboard standee.

The gameplay did attempt to aim high in various ways, which shows that Telenet gave some serious thought into adding some depth to the proceedings. The game now features a full-blown equipment system, with the player able to pick up various weapons, items, and armors throughout the course of the game, with the theoretical ability to mix and match these bits and pieces to deal with the various situations that appear on the screen.. This is unfortunately hurt by the fact that one of the armors is the obvious best choice to take with you until you get the ultimate armor at the end of the game, and that the so-called Offense armor doesn't perform as advertised. The fact that the various weapons are upgradable adds some degree of exploration to the other aspects of this game, almost giving it a Turrican-like feel, where the gameplay is generally linear but also rewards exploration. Unfortunately, there is also a very nasty glitch in this version of the game, where upgrading a weapon to its final level actually results in a significant decrease in the weapon's damage. The basic nuts and bolts of the game have their own problems. it is often difficult to control how far Yuko moves when she's running normally, and the jumping physics are awkward at best, requiring time to adjust to and will likely be the cause of many deaths in the first level. There is a second major glitch in the gameplay with Yuko's basic sword attack, as it hits much more quickly than it animates, making it able to put out a mind-boggling amount of damage and render a good number of bosses in the game to be trivial. The level difficulty is astoundingly uneven, with a couple of the early levels being among the hardest levels in the game.

Graphics-wise, this game is built to impress, and the Sharp X68000 doesn't let anyone down. The sprites are generally well-rendered and detailed, showing the chops of the machine that served as Capcom's arcade development platform during the early '90s. While Yuko's movement is smooth, however, the movement of most enemies is anything but, with some varieties of enemies seeming to more teleport from one space to another rather than move to their new location. The greatest effort, graphics-wise, shows through in the game's visual scenes, which are at least on-par with similar scenes from other story-heavy action games of the time, like Ninja Gaiden. As said above, while the actual storyboarding was fine in its own right, it's the smaller details that shine through, like the aforementioned sweatdrop, or Megas's cybernetic eye twitching open and closed in rage as he yells at his subordinates. The visual scenes are,, by far, the most professionally-produced part of the game, and it's a shame that the rest doesn't rise to match it. The only other aspect I can only praise is the music, with the exception of one or two tracks, was well-crafted to compliment whichever part of the game to which it was applied.

Really, Valis II for the Sharp X68000 is a game that aimed for the stars but ended up hitting the bystander across the street. Ambition towards creating a gameplay-deep action platformer falls flat in the face of some design decisions that are questionable at best, and the presence of major fundamental technical glitches undermines the actual play even further, along with the awkward controls, uneven difficulty, and inconsistent writing quality. The game did hold my interest enough or me to actually finish it, which is something that not all games can claim, but one has to e aware of the game's numerous technical faults before venturing forth. Unfortunately, I have to agree with ValisHD that this is the best iteration of Valis II, and one can only wonder what would happen if Telenet managed to produce the game they were going for instead of the one that we got.

(RyIII: This is really just another case of a game that I like not necessarily being a game that I feel is good. So, ah... no hard feelings? Smile )
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