Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (PSP) – Review

cover Following on the success of the immensely popular Final Fantasy 7 and the various spin-offs and media from that work, Square Enix has turned to a portable spin-off for the PSP in Crisis Core: Final Fantasy 7 that explores the character of Zack some years before the events in the main FF7 game.  While the game does try to standalone from knowledge of FF7, it is best appreciated with full awareness of the previous title.  The game itself is very well done and works perfectly as a PSP title, but some odd, though not game-breaking, design choices lead to the game being a lot easier than I believe the creators envisioned.

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Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 (PS2) – Review

cover Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 from Atlus is a JRPG based on very traditional, turn-based combat combined with dating simulation-like elements that doesn’t, at first, vary much from its predecessor, Persona 3.  However, as you start to get into the game, you’ll notice several improvement on the already successful formula that make the game much more enjoyable and management, with possibly a slight reduction in its difficulty as a result.  Regardless of that, the game is very easy to get into and is definitely one to try if you are on the fence about JRPGs; the characters and story are quite well done, as well as the presentation, and the game promised a hefty dose of playtime but presented in a manner that can make it more distillable to the end user.  It is a definite must-have title for any RPG fan in the first place.

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Tales of Vesperia (360) – Review

Namco’s first venture of the Tales series onto the current generation of consoles, Tales of Vesperia, will feature little surprise to those that have played the series before, not that this is a problem; the few touches on gameplay changes make for a familiar, yet new, experience, and the advantages of the new hardware help to make the presentation nicer.  For those that haven’t had a chance to experience the series, the game is very accodating to new users and is a good introduction to the series.  It still, however, has the usual stereotypical elements of a JRPG and is not going to convince those with an aversion to them to reconsider.

 

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Persona 3 (PS2) – Midgame Thoughts

With a tad under 20 hrs under my belt for this game, I’ve got a better feel for it.

The game is closer to a roguelike random dungeon crawl game (like Nethack or Angband) than your typical RPG – basically, you’re not wandering a large overworld, and there’s only one dungeon with about 200+ floors which you need to tackle progressively as your party gains levels, and the like.  A handful of levels have minibosses and special teleports to allow you to move to those levels quickly if needed (eg saving before the minibosses), but progression in the tower is limited by events that happen with the game timeline.  Specifically, each full moon within the game brings a major attack (larger boss battle) which plays more like a traditional RPG and once that’s cleared a barrier in the dungeon opens to allow further exploration.  Between that and the ability for your party to become tired and thus less effective in battle keeps the pacing of moving through the dungeon at a limited pace.  The major nit I have so far is that between these tiers (separated by these barriers) the difficulty of the monsters takes a noticable jump instead of the smoother change within a tier.  I had about 5 or 6 times where I was progressing past this tier for the first time and hit a stack of monsters that had insta-death spells or multiple opponent attacks and died (annoying, if your character dies, that’s Game Over, even though you can revive dead players).   I found that it’s necessary to delve about as far as you can feel comfortable, even if that doesn’t get you to one of the trigger points, and then go back, save, rest up, regroup, collect recovery items, and all the usual bookkeeping needed in the game before trying to delve again.  This approach, it took me 3 tries to get to the next teleport point, and I gained a good deal of leveling for it.

Then outside of the dungeon, you have to go around and make friendships with fellow classmates and other people in the town.  Each of them represent one of the major arcana in the tarot, and for each social link level, you gain access to another Persona of that arcana.  Thing is, you start to have the same problems you have with The Sims in balancing which relation you develop, but fortunately, at least as far as I can tell, these can’t go backwards, so it’s just a matter of finding the time do a bit of something with everyone.

The Personas ALMOST work like Materia from FF7 – the one active at the end of battle gains experience which can give them new powers, and a special room allows you to create new ones by fusing 2 or more together – though of course you need to be of sufficient level and have the right arcana to hold it.  These use up the existing personas but there’s a registry that you save Personas and then spend cash to pull them out after they’ve been exhausted by fusion.  You also are limited in the number of Personas you have equipped, so the game encourages you to keep making new ones as you go along.

The game mechanics are definitely interesting, but they do allow the game to fall into a bit of a rut as between dungeon diving and dealing with friends, it’s pretty much the same.  The overarcing plot isn’t very deep (as yet) which at least makes the game easy to digest in small chunks, so I’m not worried about rushing to finish this one  before some of the big games start coming out this week – it’s a title I’ll be able to step back to after I finish those.  (Normally, I like to finish an RPG all the way through, but I don’t believe I need to worry too much about this this time.)

Persona 3 (PS2) – Initial Impressions

This…is a weird game.

I’ve watched some screwed up anime before (Lain, Neon Genesis Evangelion)  and the story of this game is already there, only after the first hour of play.  Unlike a traditional RPG, the combat side is a bit less emphasized (it took 45 minutes to get to a battle), and inbetween is a mix of Bully like elements (improving your performance at school) and Japanese dating-sim parts, as your friendships with the characters will affect your combat.

I get a very Killer 7 vibe from this game as well – it’s not so much in stat-building (yet) as it is making sure to play out scenes to completion.

Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm (PS2) – Review

Atelier Iris 3 - CoverAtelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm, developed by Gust and distributed by NIS America, is, like the previous games in the series, a sequel in terms of gameplay and concept to the Atelier Iris system known for its retro 2D look and focus on alchemy within the game. While this time around throws in a few interesting concepts such as a quest system, the game gets exceeding boring and repetitive in the late game, lasting probably 25% longer than it should, and other elements, notably the alchemy system, just don’t have the same oomph that it had in the other games. Tied with a rather bland story, the game is rather disappointing and definitely not a place to start for gamers unfamiliar with the series, nor a must-have for fans of the previous entries.

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Tales of the World: Radiant Mythology (PSP) – Initial Impressions

Played this for about 2 hours cumulative so far, and it’s pretty decent. It’s part of Namco’s Tales series, and actually is almost their take on Kingdom Hearts, in that the game involves all the characters from the past Tales games; I’ve certainly recognized those from Phantasia, Symphonia, Legendia, and the Abyss (with the last 3 retaining the same VAs from their games), and I’m sure there’s others I’ve not come across.

You play as a completely new character based on your specifications as to appearance, which allows you to develop him or her as you see fit. All the usual Tales mechanics are there: Artes and the Linear Battle System (though on a 3D map, so more like Symphonia and the Abyss), there’s cooking and other crafting skills, and the like. The game is structured by doing one quest at a time, with some quests necessary to progress the overall story. When you do a quest, you go to a field which you explore in a third-person, non-fixed camera view, fight and collect goodies. Some quests will have you work with another Tales characters or more, and while I’ve not gotten to that point, you can also hire characters for your party.

The PSP controls have yet to get in the way of the game – it plays perfectly fine.

So far, it’s a good addition to the series, and the incorporation of all the Tales games has yet to feel too out of place.

Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm (PS2) – Mid-game Thoughts

So I’ve logged about 20hrs on the game now, more than the halfway point, and there’s definitely pluses and minuses for the game.

Pluses:

– The quest system is pretty good to fill in the game where the story can’t take  the game (that is, the main story to this point is not all-encompassing, yet).  Since you can take many quests at a time, you can be efficient in running between the Alterworlds (read: monster fields) and complete many quests at the same time.  Mind you, certain missions (which are at the culmination of each “chapter”) only start once you’ve either raised your Guild level by taking enough quests, or by increasing your alchemy level through items you gain by exploring specific Alterworlds and through recipes you learn as rewards for quests.  I’m sure that there’s a logical reason for how the quests are given such that the player can always achieve the levels that he or she needs.

– The combat system is actually pretty good.  The Burst mode, which you get by achieving lots of hits on your foes while avoiding hits from them, is usually necessary for strong monsters and bosses, and thus figuring out how to manage your party to get there as fast as possible is necessary.   You also need to take in the various resistances and weaknesses that the monsters have; I had one battle take me about 15 minutes of gameplay because I had to figure out the right order to hit one of three baddies with different resistances and their own healing powers.

Minuses:

– The alchemy side feels even more dumbed down compared to the first game.  You gain recipes through play, and then you are always given an option of switching ingredients with knowledge of creating a new recipe with certain ingredients.  (for example, a recipe that uses a fire stone to make a fire ring is obviously adjustable to make an ice ring by using an ice stone).    Basically, to expand the alchemy “cookbook”, you just need to see what ingredients are switchable and work from there.  In Atelier Iris 2, there was the ability to work with property reviews (inherent properties of items that contributed to certain stats or abilities, eg: HP+(S) gave a small gain to hit points) on base items to make even stronger more complex items.  An example would be making a healing charm that used a healing potion as it’s base: if you figured a way to combine a lot of high HP properties, you’d make an extremely powerful ring.  This sorta exists here, but the amount of materials and reviews available is so limited that it feels there’s only small changes that I can eventually make on the more complex items.   I though that the alchemy part of the Atelier Iris series was one of the better parts, but it’s very weak here.

– A lot of repetition in terms of getting around town and some of the Alterworlds.  The town does provide boats to get to certain points quickly but still, there’s time to get there.  Most of the Alterworlds have key points that are several screens into the level, and though a few provide shortcuts that you can use later in the game, it’s still rather boring to work through them; at least the wandering monsters that are visible have a color associated with them depending on their power relative to your parties, and blue monsters, the weakest, you can destroy without entering battle just by hitting them with a sword, so you don’t have to wade through endless battles to get to certain points.

Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm (PS2) – Initial Impressions

Haven’t gotten too far into this (have yet to hit on alchemy, which I’m hoping is closer to the first installment than the second, in that you can experiment a bit more with the alchemy recipes), but they seem to have taken at least some concepts from FFXII; while I’m sure there’s an overarcing plot, your characters are acting this out through performing quests and missions posted at a guild, and you can’t take some quests until you’ve reached a level at that guild.  This hopefully will make the game feel less linear than a typical RPG.

“Dungeon” fields are a bit more interesting; you warp to them from a special point near the town, and you can only stay in the field for a limited amount of time before you’re pulled back.  And just like FFXII, there’s a map of the areas within the field that indicates where your destination is to help you plan your travels better.   Each field also has a set of mini-goals unrelated to the mission (such as killing a number of a certain foe) to gain additional rewards.

Combat is much the same as before, though now the initiative bar is represented by a stack of cards; when you make a move with a character, their card is pushed back so many spaces in the deck.  As with the other Atelier Iris games, it’s possible to perform moves to time your next initiative better either to get an attack in before an enemy, or to have an attack work in conjunction with a teammate.  There’s a new overlimit-type mode, though based on how many consecutive attacks you do on foes and how much damage you take, but when full and activated, basically stuns your foes, gives you full mana power, and allows you to create long chains and damage cycles that lead to post-combat bonuses.

I’m finding a lot of similarities between this and FFXII, though it simply may be coincidence.  Otherwise, the game looks the same (the use of 2D sprites via a 3D engine, reusing numerous sprites and creatures from past games in the series), and definitely familiar.   Once I hit the alchemy section, that’s where I hope to see some interesting changes.

Shadow Hearts (PS2) – Review

Shadow Hearts - CoverShadow Hearts, developed by Sacnoth and published by Midway, is pretty much a standard turn-based RPG that adds some new concepts to the usual mix, has a rather interesting story, and shows the signs of what the series will become in future installments, but is otherwise a lackluster title that looks like a PS1 game despite being released well after the release of the Ps2.

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