Sarah (valentinite) wrote,

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capsule video game reviews, take 1

Well, I'm well and truly behind the times, but I thought I'd give a stab at actually reviewing stuff as I play it. I'll avoid spoilers, even behind the cuts, for anything other than a) what you learn in the opening montage of gameplay and b) general theme.

Scoring note: anything 6/10 or over is a good review in my book. I'm actually, y'know, using the whole range from 0-10.

First up, and probably to be eventually included in a list of new-school text adventures best-of, but not doing that post today: Spider and Web, by Andrew Plotkin. Quick score: 10/10.

There isn't a lot I can say about the actual game, because just about everything worth saying is a spoiler. This game was groundbreaking when it came out, and it's still very, very good. It's not an easy game -- if your experience with interactive fiction is modern point-and-click drama stories (Hotel Dusk, Phoenix Wright), you're going to be a little lost. However, it's also fairly short, and as it's newer, it has a bunch of the cultural norms about fairness that came into play after the Infocom era. (Namely, you can't really screw yourself over. If you die, you can UNDO and get out of it, and there are no dead ends. Timed puzzles, yes, but the point where you clearly want to save before entering the timed bit is obvious. Or, rather, points, since a huge part of the game is tightly timed.)

The reason to play it isn't entirely the puzzles, though -- it's the narrative. Which, to be fair, is probably more blow-you-away if you're a text adventure vet, since argh spoilers would be needed here.

I played it years ago, and just replayed it recently after thinky thoughts on something else made me want to see how it had handled that. (But again, major spoilers if I say why. Sigh. I'll post about it with spoilers at some point.)

Info page on Baf's Guide, with download. If you don't know how to play Infocom games on your modern platform of choice, ask in comments and I'll actually look up the links.

I picked up CoM (the original GBA game, not the remake) just before Thanksgiving in case I needed more insulation from the in-laws. Ended up not getting around to it until after Christmas. Quick Score: 6/10

As I posted before, I seem to be one of the few people who is lukewarm on KH. I like the games, about three quarters of the way through I get sick of the battle system (in this one it was more like halfway through), and the only characters that really have any personality that I can see are Sora/Riku/Kairi. I'm not sure how fandom has become so obsessed with the Organization XIII crew, though I haven't gone looking for the manga or other tie-in stuff, which may well have more on them. I'm glad I played it, though, so now I know the background for a bunch of characters I RP with. Other than that, it was pretty forgettable, and didn't make me as reminiscent for the Disney movies as KH/KH2 did. Meh. It was worth what I paid for it, used and with a discount card. Not picking up the re-release.

And in this corner, the games I've been working on for well over a year, since I don't play them that often, but haven't felt like I could put another RPG in the PS2 either. (I stick to one RPG per platform at a time, but I'll play non-RPG games in between.) That would be Digital Devil Saga 1 and 2, which are really one game spread over two releases, IMHO. Quick score: 9/10

I'd never played an Atlus game before, but I saw a good review on a site I trusted -- I think it was rpgfan but I'm not 100% sure. I used to surf/stalk gaming news/blogs a lot more before fandom took over my "hey, my code is compiling" surf time.

I'm still not quite done -- I'm a little underleveled or underskilled in the last dungeon, and I made the mistake of playing DDS2 on hard mode. The SMT (Shin Megami Tensai) series put out by Atlus, which these two are part of, tends to have really hard random battles, and the regular storyline bosses are hard but not that much more likely to kill you than WALKING THROUGH THE DUNGEON to get to them. That's a refreshing change, but it also means that maze-dungeons are a bitch, because you can't always get back to save while exploring, and a random battle -> instadeath means a lot of lost work. Which is why I wish I hadn't played on Hard -- the boss battles are more fun on Hard, but the exploration just tips over the line into tedium.

That said, the battle system is nifty (though if you've played other SMT games, less shiny-new than if it's your first, like it was for me). Completely turn-based, heavy reliance on hitting enemy weak points, magic and physical well-balanced, and two different (though similar) skill-learning systems in the two games. It is easy in the second game to get stranded without the skills you need, though -- people are coming in and out of your party a lot due to plot, and that means it's less reasonable to keep everyone sort of "pure" in their skillsets. (That worked okay in DDS1, and it's usually my preferred setup just because I like to make skills bought match characterization.)

The story/characters are the best reason to play -- they're all interesting, and the setting does depressing and post-apocalyptic without being emo. And without being completely incomprehensible, either -- it doesn't tip over that boundary like so many anime/rpgs seem to. (I haven't hit the final outcome, though I know some spoilers.) The graphics are solid and fitting, though nothing special.

A few days ago, Dave walked into the TV room, where I was curled up with a book or laptop or something, and picked up the PS2 controller and waggled it in my face. Yes, my fiancé likes to games. Which means that despite not being a big graphics whore myself, I have a stack of older RPGs I'm probably never going to get to. But since he didn't want to watch me beat my head against DDS2 any longer, I pulled out Persona 3. (Specifically, the FES edition.) I'm only a few hours in, but I already have enough to score: 8/10.

First off, holy crap this game is GORGEOUS. Really, really gorgeous. It fuses animated and texture-mapped polygons in the battle engine in a way that seems odd but really works, it has a ton of voice acting (which is all pretty good so far), and the colors and locations are just nicely vibrant.

I do feel I'm missing huge swaths of the game -- there's so many short-branching decisions to make over what you want to do each day, and I'm deliberately playing guideless/faqless. (And on Normal Mode, thank-you-very-much so that I don't get too tired of dying since I'm guideless. I might cave and pull up a bestiary/weakness list at some point, but right now I'm avoiding even that.)

The game feels part dating-sim/Harvest Moon (though I've, er, never actually played HM) part RPG, which is intentional, and it's a weird fusion. I like it so far, though I'm wondering if we get more variety in dungeons ever -- they're more monotonous than DDS1/2. (Please don't spoiler-answer that.) The fact that you can't take the other party members off auto-battle is an interesting source of challenge for battles, though I bet it's going to annoy me at times.

And finally, a game that's been on my to-play list for 6 years in it's PS1 port, but I never got around to it until I got the DS version: Chrono Trigger. (And my console history goes NES -> PS2 -> Wii, so I missed the SNES era the first time around due to being less of a gamer in high school than any time before or since.) Quick score: 8/10.

Okay, so this is widely touted as the best RPG ever, or at least the best of many eras. It's very, very good, but playing it for the first time now means it doesn't quite hit epic for me. It is beautiful, though I really don't like the style for the character design. (Yes, I know it's the guy who did Dragonball Z. Which I don't like, either.) So the animated cutscenes are kind of meh, though the original SNES animations and backdrops are amazingly good for the limits of the tech, and some are just good period. (The floating city in the sky comes to mind there.) The multi-person techs add a lot of interest to an otherwise-standard ATB system like so many other games from that era. (It's a lot more interesting than say, FFIV.)

The main characters are kind of stock -- some of them are fun, but they're still pretty much cardboard cut-outs (so far -- I'm only partway through. To be precise in vague terms, I just got the Epoch.) And the storyline is as well. Though I'm a sci-fi nerd, so time-travel as a conceit isn't anything remarkable. It's still cute, and I expect that I'll want to actually try for the multiple endings (rather than just quitting after the first, like I did with Chrono Cross.)

Oh, and the music is, as expected, lovely. The Xenogears soundtrack is one of my favorite things ever -- it's actually the only video game soundtrack I've bought. Chrono Trigger isn't quite as good, IMHO, but it's still head and shoulders about most everything else. ...And now I want to play Xenogears again. Damnit. I need more hours in the day.
Tags: video game reviews
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