Saturday, April 18, 2009

Resident Evil 5 (PS3, 360) Review

This is a pretty big review. It's my review of Resident Evil 5 for an HD console near you. I played the Playstation 3 version, but there's really no distinct difference between that or the Xbox 360. Besides, the Xbox 360 is currently my Banjo box.

Don't Pee Your Pants..!

In 2005, horror reinvented itself as Resident Evil 4 took a chainsaw to the franchise's mainstays-- the fixed camera, clunky controls, and prerendered backgrounds. The game garnered praise from both gamer and critic alike. More often than not you can find it nestled among many top ten video games of all time lists including yours truly. Now it's four years later, and the expectations of the long-awaited Resident Evil 5 are at their highest. And while it doesn't reinvent the wheel the way its nearly perfect predecessor did, Resident Evil 5 stands strong as one hell of a game.

Resident Evil 4 had secret agent Leon Kennedy on the job with the task of searching for the president's kidnapped daughter in the rugged European wilderness. While there are some plot elements that come up in Resident Evil 5, most of the links between the two games are as loose as a Licker's tongue. Whereas Leon toured the countryside of Europe, Chris Redfield of the original Resident Evil is sent to investigate Kijuju, a West African village whose citizens seem to be infected with the same virus that swept over the zealots Leon dealt with. In past games, the Umbrella Corporation and any other players in the series' past were only glossed over. This isn't the case at all in Resident Evil 5. Resident Evil 5 aims to wrap up all of the series' loose ends, and while the knot isn't as tidy as it could have been with a plot hole or gloriously campy dialogue here and there, the player is left satisfied as the story concludes.

Yeah. Don't do too much work up there now, Sheva.

Resident Evil 5 doesn't have the leaps and bounds of differences and enhancements that the bridge between Resident Evil 3 and 4 had, but RE5 does do things to separate itself from past entries. The main hook of the game is that you're never alone. You always have a partner, and this one just so happens to be a mercenary named Sheva. At any time, a friend or even a complete stranger can jump in online to take over the role of your partner. Alternately, you and a buddy locally can control Chris and Sheva with split-screen. Both characters have a 3x3 (nine items max) grid of on-the-go inventory space to utilize. Between picking up ammo, equipping guns and other enforcers, health items, and grenades, you're forced to use this limited space intelligently and with a bit of strategy. You can combine items to save space. This is simple with a buddy who knows what he or she is doing, but with the AI, you'll have to babysit their inventory the majority of the time.

Between chapters or when you or your partner die, you can deposit any goods that you aren't using into an item reserve. This is a great and much needed way of saving space, storing a sizable amount of a given item, and having a place to store your weapons of mass destruction. Almost every gun in the game-- pistols and magnums, machine guns and rifles, shotguns and any number of explosives-- can be upgraded with the money found from fallen enemies, sold goods, and among broken boxes, barrels, and other breakables. You can boost the ammo capacity, firepower, lower the reload speed, and much more to give your armaments that extra pow, right in the kisser. Additionally, the shopkeep of "Whatcha buyin'" fame from Resident Evil 4 is nowhere to be found here. Perhaps wearing all that black in the arid desert would have killed him worse than some virus... In his stead there's a personality-less shop which buys and sells gear ranging from weapons found in the wild, grenades, health items, and other goodies.

Dr. Salvador? Did you go on the Atkins or something?

Those familiar with Resident Evil 4 will then be familiar with Resident Evil 5's structure. Each section of game is divided up as chapters. Unlike RE4, you can actually return to a completed chapter at any time instead of having to play through the entirety of the game just to reach a desired point. As for each chapter, you go through each room or area, some more linear than others as a lot of areas have rare treasures found off the beaten path and are just waiting to be sold at a high price, and you work your way from point A to point B. There's seldom any time that you're clueless about your destination since the map always marks where you need to go. A fortunate feature added to the game from past installments is that your map can stay on the top-right corner of the screen. Another added bonus is that there's a fair share of checkpoints sprinkled throughout the game as well usually before and after a big fight, puzzle, or section of room completed. As for puzzles, those who criticized RE4 for not having as many bewildering brain-busters in its repertoire will have even more to complain about as the amount of puzzles in the game can be counted on a single dismembered limb. And the puzzle solution(s) are so simple that even a Majini can do it.

Surrounded but no surrender.

The list of games that were inspired by Resident Evil 4 is a who's who of now-generation gaming. All of these games drew inspiration from the over-the-shoulder third-person shooting that RE4 made famous. There's Gears of War, Dead Space, Rainbow Six Vegas, and so forth. Most of these incorporated the ability to move around as you shoot. Resident Evil 5 stays tied and true to its precursor for better or worse. The tank-like controls are still here, and compared to something like the Wii version of Resident Evil 4 where turning and shooting was almost too good, Resident Evil 5's controls can sometimes come off as cumbersome and clunky. Moving around to someone perpendicular-- on your side-- is a bit slower than optimum. Considering that the enemies in this game are not the sauntering savages they were in previous games, and it seems like the controls haven't become faster while the enemies have. This leads to harder, if not, frustrating sections of the game. That isn't to say that it's impossible. Many times, the trick to defeating an enemy is as simple as taking a few shots, running away, taking a few shots, running away-- you get where I'm going with this. Perhaps even borrowing from games that borrowed something from its ancestor, Resident Evil 5 allows Chris and Sheva to take some much needed cover as later enemies are armed with locked and loaded machine guns, crossbows, dynamite, and the house-rocking chainsaw to name a handful of enemy party favors.

Follow the leader...'cause I'm not stupid enough to lead.

Let's not forget the party favors from your own partner. If Dickens were alive right now and played this game, he would write "A Tale of Two Resident Evil 5s". He'd work on the wording of the title, mind you, so no worries. Anyway, that's really what it is when you play with a human playing Sheva and the computer playing Sheva. With a human, you can easily exchange or combine items between another. With the computer, you can do this, but the AI won't combine items most of the time to make space. This means you must oftentimes organize both of your inventories. Did I mention that you organize items in real time? The game does not pause when you bring up the item screen. This can be more angering than fear-inducing. Thankfully though, you can assign four items or weapons to each direction of the d-pad for quick selection. On easier modes, the ineptitude of the computer AI isn't so obvious. Enemy attacks are relatively weak, so it's easy to overlook the faults of the AI. However, on higher difficulty levels, it becomes much more apparent. Sheva can get knocked down to her knees in one hit meaning you have to constantly be by her to resuscitate her if and when she needs help. Unfortunately, the AI does not have a firm grasp on what the adage "You scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours." I cannot count how many times I've been in the near-death phase, and she just stands next to me with health items in your inventory and allows me to die. These problems ramp up to irritating levels on sections of the game where you have to split up and cover your partner. Criticisms aside, these are very minor challenges throughout the first three difficulty modes. The hardest setting is where these AI problems really shine, so it's best to find a buddy to play instead.

See? I help you, so when I need to be saved, you save me!

The campaign of Resident Evil 5 will last anywhere from eight to a dozen hours pending on player ability and difficulty. The campaign is memorable and thrilling enough to play through more than once as the levels are really well-designed, and it's easy to miss secrets the first time around. The boss battles are incredibly epic, and they each have their own method and stunt to them. They're interspersed throughout the campaign that you're never worn out. Actually, you might have the problem of not wanting to stop playing! Yes, the pacing of the game is excellent. One chapter you'll be sauntering slowly through a shipyard while another you'll be shooting enemies off motorcycles from atop of moving jeep. Then there's a returning favorite from RE4 that is separate from the campaign (though the campaign must be beaten to play it), The Mercenaries, which is an arcade-style romp where the goal is to earn as many points as possible as you mow down Majini, grab time-extending bonuses, and try to stay alive. There's eight levels in all, and you can play online with a partner, locally with a buddy, or by your lonesome.

And boom goes the dynamite.

Resident Evil 5 is a technical beast. Not only are the most obvious thing gorgeous like textures that never look ugly no matter how close you get to them and the fantastic character, enemy, and boss models, but little things like the delicate use of bloom lighting, the way dust spins around in a swirl, and light reflecting through the cracks of walls all lead up to an unbelievably impressive package. Voice work is done well given some of the hilarious bad dialogue. Things like "The switch isn't here. Maybe it's somewhere else". Oh. Really? Thank you, Sheva, for that. I would have never guessed that. When we get out of here, I owe your ass a beer for that awesome revelation! The soundtrack is suiting throughout the duration of the game. When enemies pop up, the music kicks in, so when you hear a melodic phrase, you know you best be on your guard. It gives a perfect ambiance to each section of Resident Evil 5.

Resident Evil 5 does not revolutionize the series like Resident Evil 4 did, and frankly it's unfair to think it would. Those who yearn for the survival-horror days from yesteryear will be plenty disappointed as Resident Evil 5 is almost 80% pure action. However, those desiring a wonderfully put together, adrenaline-pumping, in-your-face game will definitely not be disappointed. The partner AI may be mediocre, but the experience is not ruined at all by this fact. Boost up the sound system, crank up the volume, turn off the lights, and like Shinji Mikami said many E3s ago, "Don't pee your pants!"

[SuperPhillip Says: 9.0/10]

Friday, April 17, 2009

SuperPhillip Central Gets A New Banner: Central City is Now Once Again in Peace!

You probably noticed that new banner at the top of the page. I remembered that reader MAR10 designed a wonderful logo for an RPG project of mine. Hopefully he doesn't mind me altering it to say SuperPhillip Central instead of SuperPhillip: The Crystal Quest! I brought out an old drawing of SuperPhillip I did, erased all of the negative space around him, and pasted him on the right side of the banner. The entire banner was created using MS Paint to the result you see now.

I hope you like the new banner. Is it presentable enough for SuperPhillip Central? Give us your thoughts in the comments section.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time (DS) Review

Capping off the trifecta of Final Fantasy reviews, here is an all-new review for everyone! It's Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time. This is perhaps the longest name for a game I've reviewed yet. Congratulations, Final Fantasy Crystal Chroni-- done. Too long to type again. Enjoy the review, all!

Crystal Blue Persuasion

Back to the days of the Super Nintendo, the Final Fantasy series was more than just the mainline games. There were the Legend and Adventure games for the original Game Boy. Into the Playstation One era, and there was Final Fantasy Tactics, Chocobo Dungeon, Chocobo Racing, and Ehrgeiz. Fast-forward to present day, and we seem to be drowning in spin-offs. Now we have another entry in another spin-off, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time. It may seem like Ring of Fates with online play, but are there echoes of something new?

Long ago the world was filled to the brim with luminescent crystals. In current times? Not so much. In fact, one of the only crystals left intact lies within a quaint little forest resting behind an even littler village. This particular village is home to a coming-of-age ceremony that takes places on every child's sixteenth birthday, and it just so happens that your character's birthday is the beginning of Echoes of Time's story. What follows is the link between this ceremony, the crystal, and a sinister fellow wanting the world for himself.

If you don't care for the story, most scenes
can be skipped at your leisure.

Unlike Ring of Fates, your hero isn't predetermined. You don't rename the main character like you did in the first DS Crystal Chronicles game. Instead, you choose your hero from one of four races. There's the sword-wielding Clavats, the magic-casting Yukes, the double-jumping Selkies, and the height-disadvantaged Lilties. Though much of the equipment and goods in Echoes of Time can be used by every race, there are clothing and equipment exclusive to each race. Weapons, armor, and accessories can be leveled up to boost their effectiveness, but each item has a maximum amount it can be upgraded. Additionally, gems can be attached to equipment giving bonuses from higher protection from fire to recovering more HP or MP from items picked up. A nifty feature included in Ring of Fates and included in the sequel, too, is that whatever you equip changes the appearance of your character. You can look as cool or as goofy as you like.

Welcome to the glorious town of... Town!

Echoes of Time retains much from its 2008 predecessor. The structure of the game is pretty much the same. Talk to a key person, open up a new location on the world map to explore, head to new location, beat up monsters, beat down bosses, talk to a new key person, and rinse and repeat. Echoes of Time has plenty of intriguing dungeons for feverish gamers to crawl through. Advancing to the next room or area may be as simple as defeating all enemies, or it can become much more complex such as pushing stone rocks onto buttons to keep them down, carrying a stray energy source to its home in order to energize a nearby door mechanism, dousing a spiral of fire that's blocking the path, freezing a pond of water in order to push a block across, or a plethora of even more complicated puzzles. Most assuredly, there's plenty of variety as well as times where you'll need to use both brain and brawn to proceed. Don't feel bad if you're just stuck without a clue on how to solve the puzzle in front of you. It can get that tricky.

Combat, while a stretch above hacking and slashing, is relatively unchanged from Ring of Fates. Mashing the attack button will get you somewhere nine times out of ten, but be warned that monsters and enemies can shield themselves from attacks. If you strike a foe who is guarded, you'll get dazed for a second or two, leaving yourself open. Many of the game's monsters as well as your own party members can be picked up and tossed away. It's hilarious bashing a monster repeated against a wall until it finally submits or picking up a dazed party member and moving them out of harm's way.

The Echoes of Time version of
that Sixteen Candles scene.

And what is a Final Fantasy game without magic? Magic is something that is readily available for any character no matter what level. Instead of learning new magic by gaining experience levels, all the magic spells in the game are yours for the casting-- if you can gather the cooperation to cast them. The original six spells, Fire, Thunder, Blizzard, Cure, Raise, and Clear, are easy enough to cast on your own. They require you to hold down the casting button as you move the spell circle towards where you want to unleash your spell. By combining two or more spell circles, you and/or your party can discharge a more powerful spell. For example, two Fire spell circles when cast summon the more devastating Fira flame spell. You can mix and match spells to see all of the different spell types that Echoes of Time has to offer.

Echoes of Time allows you to recruit party members and take up to four of them into battle. They can be very helpful-- freezing enemies still so you can slice and dice them to destructive fruition. Other times though, they can be unbelievably dimwitted-- falling into holes, healing themselves but never you, standing around not doing anything, not following you at all, and getting in your way. Let's touch on that last one. "Getting in your way." When you defeat an enemy, usually they will drop loot for you to pick up, be it, materials for new gear, money, or orbs to increase your magic power. It can get very vexing to try to pick up one of these dropped items and instead pick up one of your in-the-way party members. Not only that, but sometimes the item will drop onto the top of a party member's head, and while you're trying to retrieve it, that party member is moving away from you. Additionally, trying to solve delicate puzzles with three ADD AI party members is a puzzle in of itself. You'll be pushing a block to the left, and they'll be trying to push it the other. You'll try to drop an important item down, and it'll land on one of their heads instead of your intended destination. ...I don't know if you can hear that, but I just sighed right now. It's rather obvious that the same AI problems of Ring of Fates were overlooked for Echoes of Time's online multiplayer.

With friends or with the AI,
you don't have to go it alone.

It's true. Finally, a Final Fantasy game on DS has an in-depth online multiplayer mode that isn't sending painted Moogles to one another. Essentially online is the story mode, but instead of going it alone or with AI party members, you can have adventurers from around the world slay bombs, mus, and chimeras with you. You can opt to invite or join players. Invite has players joining you while you're playing. Story progress and character information is saved for you, but not for the invited players. Instead, they just keep their experience, loot, and items associated with their characters. Joining another game just places you in that player's party from wherever in the story mode they're at. You can't send custom messages with random gamers online-- you can only select from a series of pre-made comments like "What happened?" or "Heal me!" You can, however, add a player in your game on-the-fly without dealing with friend codes. Of course, both players must accept each other as friends, and then they can play with their own pre-made comments instead of the game's. Besides playing through the story mode, you can also compete against your human party or the clock in a series of increasingly difficult quests for bonus booty and rare items.

From the year difference between Ring of Fates and Echoes of Time, there really isn't a noticeable change in visuals. Everything looks great (I imagine it wouldn't look quite so nice on a larger screen), but there are problems with slowdown when there's a lot of action on the screen. Minimizing the amount of members in your party helps remedy this mostly, but for those who were expecting a flawless graphical experience with three other friends, you'll be disappointed. The full-motion video scenes are really nice to look at, and the voice work sounds pleasant save for a rotten line here and there. The soundtrack has a few memorable tunes, but it may be just from playing through the same areas again and again that they'll stick with you instead of actually being of a remarkable quality. The original Crystal Chronicles still reigns supreme by a wide margin in the music department.

There's eight secret characters available to recruit.
Each has their own way of unlocking them.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time is the first title in the series to feature online multiplayer, and that's really the selling point of the game. The adventure is still enjoyable even with wacky AI partners, and there's even plenty of replay value through a New Game+ feature, multiple difficulties with harder enemies and greater loot, and much fun to be had online. While it's not a big step for the series and while it looks and feels extremely similar to last year's Ring of Fates, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time's clarity is rather bright.

[SuperPhillip Says: 8.25/10]

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

30,000 Views and a New Banner!

Okay, so only half of those two things do I really possess at this moment. Let's talk about the views of SuperPhillip Central first. I just noticed that we passed 30,000 views. Sure, 29,900 are probably mine, but I won't let that ruin my fun! Seriously though, I hope everyone is enjoying SPC. What started out as a new hobby to cure my boredom has turned into just a hobby to cure my boredom.

On to the new banner of which I don't have one. That is where you come in, faithful reader. I'm looking for a new banner to match the new colors of SPC, red and blue, as well as just some new eye candy to gawk at when you arrive on our humble blog. I have an outline planned, but I don't have any of the computer mastery to turn the idea into something beyond a concept/outline. If you're interested, please leave me a message in the comments. Perhaps I can give money to your Paypal account or something for some hard work on the banner.

Have a great night, everyone.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates (DS) Review

Leading up to tomorrow's Echoes of Time review, we have Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates, also for the Nintendo DS. How will it shape up to the online multiplayer sequel?

One Ring To Rule Them All?

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Square-Enix has made it clear that the Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicle series of games is Nintendo-exclusive; the first of which premiered on the Gamecube. This title allowed the lucky twelve people who had buddies with Gameboy Advances to link up and play the engrossing multiplayer mode together. While it wasn't the type of Final Fantasy experience Nintendo fans were clamoring for, it was a rather solid title both alone and with friends. The second installment of the Crystal Chronicle namesake, Ring of Fates, has players wirelessly linking up their DSes together for multiplayer fun. Is Ring of Fates a step-up from the Gamecube original, or will this ring leave a green stain around your gaming finger?

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Someone left the toilet seat up.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates is a prequel to the very loose story of the Gamecube title. Ring of Fates has a much more expanded narrative than its predecessor. The royal kingdom of Rebena Te Ra (which is played through as a monster-filled labyrinth of ruins in the original Chronicles) is home to The Crystal Temple which houses the Great Crystal. This holy entity is the yin to the sinister red moon's yang in power. Lately, the balance of the two forces have shifted-- tipping towards the strength of the red moon and its "moontouched" followers. Foreboding rumors flood out from the Crystal Temple, the best crystal users of the city have vanished, and the king himself is suffering from an unknown decline in power. On the other side of the continent the situation isn't so bleak, two young twins Yuri and Chelinka live with their father in a small mountainside village. Unknown to them, however, they were born with a magic power that only the two of them share, and these two twins will soon be in for the fight of their lives. Playing as essentially a four year-old as the main character is certainly not appealing-- at least to me. The cast grows up a little bit, but you can't help feel separated from the characters which is a shame.

One of the greatest criticisms of Crystal Chronicles was the burden of having to carry around that damned chalice to and fro. This time around the world isn't polluted with miasma, so no chalice is needed. The chalice is dead! Long live freedom!

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The many faces of Ring of Fates.

Starting off in the game, you play as Yuri by his lonesome as you enter game's starting dungeon, but by the time you reach the climax of the game you'll have a party of four characters which you can change control of simply touching a character's icon on the bottom screen. The AI will then do its best to follow you around, but quite frankly the AI is really brain-dead: perpetually falling into holes, passively allowing monsters to slap them, and otherwise just making you constantly heal them for their stupidity. Regardless, Ring of Fates is very much a dungeon-crawler and a fun one at that even with the clumsy AI. You take on foes small and large from series staples like Mus, Bombs, and Sahagins to Behemoths, Ochus, and Zus. There's plenty of baddies to whack and slash at as well as treasures to obtain. These can house magicite-- the orbs that give characters the ability to perform spells like Fire and Ice-- gil-- the currency of the Final Fantasy series-- or even scrolls and materials. Scrolls are weapon, armor, or item inventions that are made from the various materials found in treasure chests or dropped by fallen monsters. A man in Rebena Te Ra sells armor and weaponry, but it's usually better to invent new items just the same. All equipment is displayed on your party in-game which is very cool. Nothing like seeing a boy dressed up in a frog costume kicking the ass of a behemoth.

Dungeons play out as most dungeon-crawlers operate. You go from room to room or area to area, defeating monsters, scoring loot, unlocking doors by either magic, stepping on a pressure plate, or tossing a stone tablet onto a switch, and facing the area's boss in a final showdown to further the story as well as gain a ton of treasure. These boss battles require you to attack a foe's weakpoint (usually for massive damage) to unleash the most suffering and HP loss to a boss. The first boss battle you face is a giant yellow scorpion. Your main goal is to leap onto its back and attack the glowing red crystal on its tail for the most effective way of bringing the ol' stinger down.

And there's much more to the combat in Ring of Fates than in Crystal Chronicles. You can obviously attack normally with the A button, but there's more options than that. Smaller monsters can be picked up, carried around, and slashed from beneath. You can grab onto flying foes and attack while you hang onto them. You can also leap onto of some monsters and attack from above. There's a variety of ways to defeat a monster, and you'll most likely need to utilize all of them if you want to survive.

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Work as a team to push that platform!

Then there's the game's magic system. Using magic does not consume MP-- there's simply no such thing as MP in Ring of Fates. Instead, you use up one of your orbs of magicite. So if you use a Fire magicite, you've used it up. Your means of gaining more magicite is by either picking them up from treasure chests or dropped goods from a monster or purchasing them at a shop in Rebena Te Ra. You can only carry so much also. At the beginning of the game you're stuck with only five of each of the main spells. However, you can purchase pouches with let you carry one more of a certain magicite. Magicite is used by selecting one from the touch screen menu and then holding the X button to initiate it. You then guide the ring of impact to the area you wish to unleash your magic. By stacking rings of the AI or other players you can unchain even stronger magic attacks such as Fira and Thundaga. While magic isn't useful for everything (this reviewer had more fun just hacking everything to death), for some bosses it's instrumental in defeating them.

Ring of Fates is a visually impressive title. There's a lot of great 3-D work from the sparse CG cutscenes to the enemy and character models. I really believe the models are twice as striking than they were in Final Fantasy III which is no small accomplishment. The game is sprinkled with wonderful effects like the detailed grass, rolling clouds, rain and thunderstorms, as well as rolling dust and snow. Things get dicey though when there's a lot going on in battle in multiplayer; things can slow down just a bit. Remarkably, there's very nice voice acting mixed into more than half of the major events in the game, and the music-- while not of the caliber of the original's score-- is quite good and gets you in the monster-mashing mood.

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Square-Enix knows how to get the most out of a platform.

After completing the main mode which took me just over ten hours, you have the option to play through the game all over again only this time the enemies are stronger, drop better loot, and you get to keep all your levels and inventory. There's also a secret dungeon that can only be unlocked after the first playthrough. Of course, the biggest draw here is multiplayer. Each player needs a DS and their own copy of the game, and then they can wirelessly scrounge the eight dungeons (harder versions from the single-player game) the game offers. Unfortunately, there's no online play for playing with folks from around the country or even the world. While there's good reason for this (lacking dedicated servers, loot-stealers, etc.), one can just hope that a sequel gives players the opportunity for this. Instead, you have a very much throwaway Moogle-trading mode which leads me to believe that this mode was only included so the game could have the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection logo on the box. Go figure that Square-Enix was sneaky (remembers the constant milking of Final Fantasy VII).... Never mind.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates is very much a fun and entertaining game-- even on single-player. With friends, it's even better. I've happily played through this game three times just to get the best equipment possible and have logged in over thirty hours total. Many problems of the Gamecube original have been fixed, but there's still room for correction. If you have friends wanting to get down with some dungeon-crawling action and they own a DS and a copy of this game, you folks will have a smashingly good time. If you're all by your lonesome, the story and consequent playthroughs will give you value for your money.

[SuperPhillip Says: 8.0/10]

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions (PSP) Review

Firstly, let me apologize for being late with the last updates. I've been busy getting things settled in the real world, so thanks for your patience!

Now... For Thursday, I have a brand new review in store. It'll be for Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time for the Nintendo DS and Wii (DS version reviewed). Better still, I'm going to be posting an old Final Fantasy review each day leading up to Thursday's new review. Today we're going to take a look back at the must-own Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions for the PSP.

What is war good for? Apparently everything.

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While most of the RPG world was captivated by the enchanting spell of the phenomenal Final Fantasy VII, there was a second Final Fantasy title released for the original Playstation in 1997, the fantastic Final Fantasy Tactics. Unfortunately, Final Fantasy VII eclipsed the tactical tale both in hype and in sales. Fast forward to a little over a decade later, and Final Fantasy Tactics has been given its chance to shine with this PSP port, Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions. Packed with new content, is this new take on FFT worth your time and most importantly, your gil?

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Some parts of the game are told in
beautiful cel-shaded cut-scenes.

Final Fantasy Tactics hosts a wealth of characters of different nobility and regard. The story sets the spotlight upon Ramza Beoulve and his actions in the War of the Lions. This war is between two separatist factions feuding over who will reign of the crown after the King's death. It is time of great political unrest. While peasants starved in the streets, the nobles seek only to increase their own power. Ramza was born in a noble family of knights and lords himself, but when his older brothers decide it's the perfect opportunity to make a race for the crown, his world turns flip-side upside down. However, buried underneath the sibling rivalry and double-crossing lies an evil veil full of demons and twelve powerful Zodiac Stones. Ramza leaves his title of nobility, desiring to clear his family's name, and enters the life of a mercenary.

The War of the Lions features an all-new translation removing the Engrish and plot inconsistencies that plagued the Playstation original. The dialogue has a much grander Shakespearian theme to it, so you may want to dust off your cliff-notes. Those more into that style of literature will certainly feel at home and enjoy the new dialogue. The revisions may seem small, but for those who played and completed the original may just come out with a completely fresh take on the story with this PSP rebirth. It just goes to show how some minor tweaks can make all the difference regarding a port.

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The maps are well-designed and fun to battle in.

Unlike most Final Fantasies, there's no free-roaming from area to area. Instead you lead Ramza and his collection of warriors (which can be up to 24 characters now) across an overworld map marked with waypoints guiding Ramza's party to various cities, battlegrounds, and other locales all the while taking on plot-specific skirmishes which are marked in red or random encounters marked in green. The original title featured 20 classes ranging from sword-wielding knights to long-range attacking archers. You open up new classes by raising your job level-- done by earning Job Points from attacking or supporting. For example, a Time Mage is earned by being a Level 3 Black Mage, and a Thief is obtained by being a Level 2 Archer. By acquiring and utilizing these Job Points, you can learn new skills which range from active like engaging the enemy, reactive such as counter tackling an enemy, support such as white magic, movement like being able to jump higher, or skills of the special variety. Including the 20 original classes, War of the Lions features two brand new jobs that are pretty time-consuming to earn: the finicky Onion Knight and the almighty Dark Knight. In addition to the two new classes, there's also new cameos. Cloud Strife of Final Fantasy VII was a popular one back in 1997, but joining him are the sky pirate Balthier of Final Fantasy XII and Luso from the upcoming DS entry Final Fantasy Tactics A2.

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Arrrrrghh! I be pillagin' yer skies and rapin' yer clouds!

If you've played a tactical RPG before, you know what you're in for. At the beginning of each battle you determine the units and their starting positions that you'll be using for the battle. Then it's on to the encounter at hand. Battles take place on a sprawling three-dimensional map. There's a bunch of variables to consider when attacking much less positioning your troops: terrain, the time it takes to charge an attack, and your speed are all things to consider. Even the side of the enemy you attack on is factored in. A direct attack to the front won't be as likely to hit as an atatck from the side-- or even better-- the back. Who cares if it's unethical? This is war, man! Magic and summon spells are very powerful, but the catch is they take time and turns in order to be unleashed upon your foes. If timed incorrectly, they can miss completely wasting time and magic points. Thankfully, you can check to see the order of turns to make sure you give yourself enough time to charge up. Having trouble viewing the battlefield? A simple flick of the analog nub puts things into perspective. You can even zoom in and out to try to get a strategic advantage. All these factors to contemplate may seem astonishing at first, but after a few battles everything will begin to fall into place in your mind.

And you'll need to have the essentials sink in soon enough as the game's AI is devilish, crafty, and one tough customer. Enemies know when to gang up on the weakest link, when to run away, and when to come at you foes blazing. You may have everything figured out, but then the game throws battle conditions at you such as protecting an important party member, eliminating a certain enemy, or being split up with one half of your party on one side of the map and the rest on the other.

A new addition to Final Fantasy Tactics is a local multiplayer mode where players can team up or battle one another. New twists include disarming traps and locking swords where both parties rapidly press on the X button to overpower the other. Multiplayer's a notable inclusion as it's the only way to earn some of the game's newest items.

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The port retains the same quality
of graphics of the source.

Being a port War of the Lions still retains the PS1 level graphics of the original. The environments are low polygon, but get the job done. The beautiful 2-D sprites show an impressive range of emotion and action. The greatest part of the presentation package is the inclusion of fully animated cel-shaded cutscenes taking the place of various text events in the game such as when Ramza and Delita play music on a blade of grass in Chapter One. These cutscenes feature well-performed voice acting which the Japanese release missed out on. Unfortunately, one aspect that was not delved into is the considerable amount of slowdown in battle. It ranges from passable to seriously vexing, and while not overly troublesome it is something that should have been worked on first and foremost. Furthermore, the soundtrack is just one of the best of all time, and the PSP speakers really don't do it justice. It's still of good quality, but it's not as full obviously being on a handheld.

The original Final Fantasy Tactics has been given a second life with The War of the Lions. If you missed it the first time, don't you dare miss it again. Even if you've played the PS1 original to death, there's enough new here to warrant a second look such as the excellent plot and dialogue revisions, new characters, battles, and side quests. This is definitely a title that will put the dedicated player into the hundreds of hours game time-wise. This is one of, if not, the best tactical RPG I have ever played. It has its shortcomings, but after mastering the Dark Knight class for yourself, it simply won't matter. It's just a whole lot of fun.

[SuperPhillip Says: 9.5/10]

Monday, April 13, 2009

SuperPhillip's Favorite VGMs - "Katmarin' It Up" Edition

We're approaching the 300th video, and it's the Katamari Damacy series that will be rolling us to our goal. Somewhat peculiar this week is that all five songs come from the same game. No worries, however, because next week there's Katamari goodness from the various sequels! Let's roll up some music, shall we?

V291. Katamari Damacy - Katamari on the Rock - Main Theme

Let's countdown to 300 videos with the always quirky seldom normal Katamari Damacy franchise! This tune features the main theme of the series. Ah! It's so catchy! Perhaps it's... too catchy!

V292. Katamari Damacy - Lonely Rolling Star

The first five songs of our listen to the Katamari franchise are all from the original Katamari Damacy game. Although the song is in Japanese, the melody is universal which is what I care for most in music. If I cared about the words, I'd probably read more poetry!

V293. Katamari Damacy - A Crimson Rose and a Gin Tonic

Filled with scat and a wonderful jazzy beat, A Crimson Rose and a Gin Tonic is one infectious song while the good Prince is rolling up household objects in his Katamari ball. This is a track that makes you want to get up and dance, does it not? You don't have to admit to anything, so no worries.

V294. Katamari Damacy - Cherry Blossom Color Season

This is a peaceful yet powerful song performed by a bounty of Japanese children. Sorry to all of those pedophiles out there, but there aren't any pictures for you weirdos. Instead we have a beautiful and soothing song that makes one feel like they can do anything... like roll up gigantic skyscrapers and crabs!

V295. Katamari Damacy - Katamari Love ~ Ending Theme

Katamari Love is the ending theme of Katamari Damacy performed by Shigeru Matsuzaki who also sang Katamari on the Swing and Shine! Mr. Sunshine-- all included in my favorite VGMs. It seems like a standard feature of any song Matsuzaki sings is a kickass chorus, and Katamari Love does not disappoint.

The conclusion of our listen to the Katamari Damacy series as well as the arrival to the 300th video are all next week on SuperPhillip's Favorite VGMs! We'll see you then!