Odin Sphere (PS2) – Initial Impressions

Atlus has been known to make some of the more interesting games in terms of mechanics (examples include Disgaia and Trauma Center), so whenever they do come out with a new game, typically people will take notice. Odin Sphere already has a couple of things going for it: the artwork is simply amazing – it’s based on bright colorful 2D sprites that look more out of a watercolor than a computer screen.  The gameplay is definitely interesting.  Battle is done real time on a map that’s like “Defender” but easier to think of as a roundabout/traffic circle in 2D, that you can move around quickly.  There’s some strange aspects of combat and leveling up that I’m still trying to figure out, but there are additional features like Alchemy that you learn as you go along.  A chapter in the game consists of clearing all of these “traffic circles”  (10 or so) and defeating bosses.

The sad part is that there are parts of this game that remind me of a failed Square Enix title, “Unlimited Saga”, in the presentation (as if a watercolor), and jumping from field to field.  Of course, combat is much more different, and there were aspects of USaga that were just nearly impossible to figure out without spending a lot of time in the manual.  So Odin Sphere definitely has a leg up.

.hack//G.U. Volume 2 (PS2) – Mid-game Thoughts (~17hr)

Not much to say on this right now beyond the fact that I’m burning through this – the gameplay is not hard at all except that you just need to make sure that you have a healer with a lot of spell point revival items along for the ride.

I’m also finding what is sort of annoying me about the story with this one.  Specifically, there’s basically three different plots with some intermeshing between them due to the AIDA infection: one is the two “bumbling idiots” that seem more oblivious to the overall problems with “The World R:2” and want to keep playing the game, another is the GU team with Kuhn and Pi to take care of the AIDA infection, and the third is the Atoli story which involves the player tournaments.  Basically, each ‘mission’ seems to switch between these, some forgotten for several missions, which makes the whole thing right now disjointed.   I’m expecting that there will be a tie-up of these by the third volume, but right now, it’s very soap-opera-ish.

I will also say that I think after all three volumes are said and done, this is a game that could have been shipped as a single 2-disc set (size for voice acting and CGI moives), because the gameplay doesn’t warrant the size.  The full set may end up being a 75hr game, but compared to other games boasting 80+ hrs of gameplay, that’s nothing.

But, if you’re going to play this without playing the first volume of the GU series, bad idea.  It also helps to have played the first series.  The anime series, at least, is optional.

Rogue Galaxy (PS2) – Review

Rogue Galaxy - CoverRogue Galaxy, developed by Level-5 (famous for Dark Cloud and Dragon Quest 8) and distributed by SCEA, has most of the usual trappings of a modern jRPG with both new features that try to expand beyond typical RPG elements as well as those that feel like some of Level-5’s past games. While the story is very engaging, there’s some significant problems with the pacing of the game with incredibly long, repeating dungeons, a rather annoying endgame, and some questionable decisions regarding combat make this an unfortunate disappointment, with a lot of work just to enjoy the details that do work well. Continue reading

Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords (PSP, DS) – Review

Puzzle Quest - Cover (PSP)“Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords” produced by Vicious Cycle Software and Infinite Interaction and distributed by D3 Publisher for both the Sony PSP and the Nintendo DS, is a simple Bejeweled clone at it’s core, but offers a lot of RPG and collectable card game-type components that readily mixes up the basic formula to produce a game that’s fun to play in short bursts or long sessions.

The version reviewed here is the PSP version. While there are noted differences in graphics and presentation of the DS and PSP version, the core game is basically the same.

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Super Paper Mario (Wii) – Review

Super Paper Mario - CoverSuper Paper Mario published by Intelligent Systems and distributed by Nintendo, is an effort to combine classic 2D platforming gameplay with RGP elements from the past Paper Mario series, with a few additional twists to make the game interesting. While overall the game is very good, those coming into the game expected to find platforming-type gameplay as from New Super Mario Bros. will likely be disappointed due to how tedious and disjointed it ends up being. Regardless, the game is still a top-notch title, and continues the excellent Paper Mario series quite well.

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Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories (GBA) – Initial Impresion (of sorts)

Ok, I know it’s older, though I did play it when it came out, though I got towards the end levels and started having major problems, mostly because I just kept spamming cards.  I don’t remember, in playing through it the one time, of being able to easily get more cash to buy more cards in order to create more powerful decks for beating tougher foes. (More on the gameplay in a bit).

So, on a whim after reading up on some Kingdom Hearts news, I decided to put it back in, and suddenly I figured out how you level grind in the game (you can “reinitialize” an open door and thus generate new foes and rewards, ad infinitium).

The game uses a weird collectable card game varient.  You have a deck but it’s in a fixed order and all visible to you though you can cycle  through to play the one you want.  All have a number on them indicating their rough power, but if a foe plays a card with a higher number, they cancel your attack (a Zero card can negate other attacks if played afterwards, however).  Cards including usual melee attacks as well as magic and healing.  You also get “friend” cards that randomly drop during battle.  When the deck’s empty, you can reload it though it’s longer to reload each time you do so. You can also stock three cards to possibly unleash a more powerful attack though you lose one of the cards for the rest of battle.  To some extent I wish the battle speed was just a bit slower, as it’s hard to be able to move about to dodge attacks and to select the cards you want at the speed that some characters move.

You can earn cards in battle, or buy from Moogles in a typical CCG fashion: completely random.  Thus, it pays to visit the Moogles ofter to get the best cards to fill your deck.  Your deck is limited by it’s overall power, so you can’t just stock it with the best you have, so there’s a bit of usual CCG strategy involved.  The worst part is that if you want to rearrange the deck, it’s just as easy to empty the deck out completely and refill it than to insert just one card at a specific spot.

Each world is a map of rooms; to get to a previously unexplored room (or even explored) you must supply special map cards for the door per the door requirements.  Some map cards generate save points or Moogle shops, others affect the random encounters in the room.  As noted above, if you didn’t try to regenerate these rooms, you’d be faced with a fixed number of enemies and would not be able to level grind, so it does help to know the trick of resetting a room.

It’s not a bad game, definitely a change of pace from usual RPGs, though does have a handful of flaws.  But, it does link the two other KH games, so we’ll see how far I get this time.

Super Paper Mario (Wii) – Mid-Game Thoughts (~50%)

Just completed the 4th world today, so I know I’m at 50% for the game.

First of all, this is a great game.  However…

I think this is a game that came with expectations, and while it’s meeting those in spades, there’s just something… different about the game.

It’s definitely not a pure platformer.  Those hoping for such will be disappointed.  There’s not a lot of challenging platforming elements in the form of jumps over bottomless pits, masses of foes, or the like.

It’s also not an RPG.  This isn’t “1000-yr door” either.

It truly is a .. “meeting” of both.  “Mix” isn’t the right word, as the resulting game is very hard to separate the line from platformer and RPG, and as such, I have a feeling people expecting one or the other are going to be disappointed, to some degree.  The resulting genre is still good, but basically has the problem of trying to be what seems to be a fast paced action game burdened with a lot of dialog-heavy scenes.  “1000-yr door” being more an RPG, worked fine as I expected that much.

If you can get over that, the game has some very nice mechanics.   The whole 2D/3D thing is both implemented well in terms of controls (basically which only use the remote as a classic NES controller with a few motion moves at times), and in terms of gameplay elements, with the need to switch dimension modes a lot to proceed.   Basically, if you think you’re stuck, you just switch to 3D and there’s usually a hint, at worst, of what to do next.  Mind you, a few areas are a bit mazelike, so switching back and forth to find the next place may take some time (4 worlds took me about 6 hrs, so you get an idea of that).  As you also can switch who you control in your party as well as what special power you get via companions called Pixls, there’s a lot of possible ways to approach some puzzles.  Of course, my biggest annoyance here is that you have to bring up the menu every time to switch, when it would have been nice to have at least one of these on a control if possible.

Dialog and other additions are pretty good (3rd world is a geek’s fantasy, for example), but again, it is very talk heavy for what’s really hard to call an RPG.

So it’s definitely a good game, but, I think it’s very different than I anticipated, and while I’m not disappointed, I know there were those hoping for a lot more platformer action than this game really allows.

Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords (PSP) – Initial Impressions

I’ve heard a lot of word of mouth about this title, and so once I found it (it’s a surprise hit, so shelf copies are limited in many places), I will say the initial premise and game looks very very promising.

It’s basically a Bejeweled puzzle/casual game dressed as a fantasy RPG.  Your character takes on quests, during which he or she must ‘fight’ opponents.  Battles are done using a standard Bejeweled board with multiple types of tokens with the usual rules: swap any two adjacent tokens to make a line of three as to clear them and have more tokens fall to fill that.  However, the types of tokens you clear become important: there’s colored ones that represent mana for magic spells, experience tokens, gold tokens, and skulls which can be matched to instantly hurt your opponent.  Yes, your opponent, because as opposed to the usual Bejeweled approach, you take turns between your opponent to move tokens and reap the benefits.  This usually prevents you from setting up long combos that you could sometimes do in Bejeweled as the computer opponent is likely going to find the best point for those (and I’ve heard reports that the AI, as you get up there, is realllly good), so it’s a matter of considering the current board.  The mana you get for spells (which get more powerful with experience) can be used instead of swapping at any turn to cast a spell usually damaging your opponent.   Vary store and quest items change the frequency of how pieces come on the board during battle and other aspects.

I’ve only done a few handful of missions but this combination of RPG/casual game (which is very pick-up and go) already has me hooked.

I will note that this game also exists for the DS, but as I’ve read it, the PSP tends to be better, the graphics outweighing the simplicity of the DS controls.