Bleeding

Bleeding

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ego-hazard....er...Swimming Through Star Ocean....uh wait, no...(insert creative title)

Hello all,

As the epic wait of all waits continues for Lunar Dawn's release date and since the holidays are over (except for my upcoming 20th birthday on January 2nd) I figured it'd be nice if I actually....pshhh...I don't know, get back to blogging for a change. So, with that in mind, I will now force you into submission as I spill my guts....per say....


First, nostalgia!


It was the mid 1990's, I was in Florida with my family on vacation. While visiting with my two older cousins I noticed they had decided to bring their Playstation with them. While I shuffled through their collection they had already powered the console up and were playing a game. I gave the screen my attention as some of gaming's most infamous title screens (and opening dialogue) came to my ears...


July 1998
Raccoon Forest



Not wanting to break the mood too much I quickly asked, "What's this?"

Their reply? Two words...


Resident Evil


Yes, I was witnessing the birth of a legendary franchise...but being only five or six years old, I was soon out the door in fear for my life. Now a days I tell people it was the horrible voice acting that frightened me so, not people being messily eaten alive by zombies (is sooooo lying).


Skip a decade or so....after I grew to like survival horror....



I just got done playing Resident Evil (the remake) on the Nintendo Game Cube (yes, it still works and I would much rather play that system than a Wii any day), twice as a matter of fact, for both profiles. Everything good I could say about this MASTERPIECE has already been said a thousand times....so imagine all of that somewhere in this article...


Ok time's up.


NOW ponder an even bigger question....


The movies......WHY?!


Imagine everything BAD that's been said about these movies is somewhere in this article....then sit back and listen to me repeat the three major areas why fans were outraged (all of these based on articles I've read, why waste money or time to see them?)

1) Over-all mood: the movies were said to be bloody, fast-paced action films rather than the dark, mysterious, Stephen King-like suspense thrillers that the games were.

2) Lack of game characters: the central focus of the movies revolves around an ex-Umbrella employee named Alice. Characters that were central to the plot of the game, like Chris, Jill and even Wesker, get bumped to supporting roles, and most fans agree that their portrayal was way off.

3) Over-all plot: as said before, Alice is the main character, trapped underground when the Tyrant virus leaks. Technically, this COULD work, given the fact that it's several weeks if not MONTHS after the incident before S.T.A.R.S is finally deployed. Regardless, in my opinion, the movie ought to have a kind of subtitle if that's the case, like Resident Evil: Germination
or Infection


No matter how bad the films are, the saddest part, as I think everyone knows, is that it's all Capcom's fault! Zombie film-making legend George Romero wrote a script for the first film. Even though I would have changed certain things (Chris isn't even a S.T.A.R.S member! What gives?) it was excellent and followed most of the games' central plot elements.


Unfortunately..

It was rejected by the very company who birthed the series, giving the green light to another director with a more Hollywood-style approach. The result speaks for itself.


This, I believe is a clear sign that we need to expand the independent film industry. If I were a gambling man I'd bet money that a group of about 30 hardcore fans (like myself, and that includes writers, a few directors, etc) could EASILY make a more acceptable film than any professional who can't get passionate about the story because, like Steven Spielberg, he doesn't consider video games to have story-telling value.


Anyway....onto something else.....


As I've already said in previous posts I LOVE RPG's, in fact, I grew up on them! So for Christmas this year I was excited to get my wish fulfilled when I unwrapped a copy of Star Ocean: First Departure for the PSP. I've managed to put seven hours into it so far, and here are my initial thoughts.


Presentation rocks! After the annoying Square Enix title screen (the one that takes like 30 seconds to go away) vanishes, the player is immediately treated to an awesome video depicting the major characters in a beautiful, vibrantly colored FMV. It's no secret that one of the biggest leaps in Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions was the inclusion of animated cut scenes, (having no dialogue to read was helpful on the eyes) and fans loved it! Square decided to carry this over in Star Ocean. With great music and a top-notch voice acting cast, and, as always, good graphics, the game looks great, but how does it play? (Oh, I forgot to mention, even during in-game cut scenes, most of the script is narrated as well!)

Game play is truly remarkable. Just like Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core, you don't have to worry about turn-based battles. Now, you can just rush into the action with full force! However, the random encounters are still a major factor....so it's bittersweet. However, one major difference between Star Ocean and Final Fantasy that I've already noticed are the way in which you power-up your characters. In Final Fantasy, you had to rely about 50% on the best weapons, items and accessories. These can be bought, stolen, found in chests, and won in mini games or side quests. In Star Ocean, the player can purchase "Skill Sets" (Ex. Combat lv. 1) which opens up new possibilities for their characters' over-all stats. A good example of this is purchasing Combat 1, which allows you to use SP (skill points) to learn "God Speed", an automated technique that randomly warps your character(s) into attack position (rather than running across the field). The higher the level this skill and the faster you warp.

So basically you rely on these Skill Sets to boost every kind of stat imaginable: your ability to dodge enemy attacks, the chance of landing a critical hit, etc, and very little of it is influenced by the items you're equipped with.


But there's one problem....which I'd like to illustrate with the following scenario:


You're traveling with a party of six (three active fighters and three in reserve) across a plain so you can get to the next castle (and more than likely advance the plot) when suddenly you're attacked by a horde of monsters. You survive, but each character suffers massive damage and you use the last of your healing items to keep them alive in case you get into another fight (by the way, the three reserve fighters are weaker than the active ones). You make it to the castle and find all sorts of shops, mainly one that sells high-dollar weapons and armor. With the excess money you've acquired, you buy enough stuff to boost each active fighter's stats by several points, increasing your chances of staying alive.


This scenario is all too common in Final Fantasy.

Star Ocean however is totally different...


While towns aren't uncommon, weapons/armor/accessories that can significantly boost your character's power are few and far in between. Basically, in a nutshell, the battles are like Final Fantasy....the original Final Fantasy....for the NES...where battles can go from ridiculously easy to near impossible while traveling from one town to another. This forces you to use the same weapons for hours on end grinding to get SP, which you'll use to boost character's stats via abilities, like God Speed. But then it's revealed that each character has certain Talents (Roddick, for example, is listed as having Nimble Fingers and Originality, which means he's more likely to succeed at Writing Music--which doens't seem to be very useful at this point, Cooking--allows you to blend foods to create power-ups, or Item Creation than Cyuss, who possesses Animal Instinct). By using this hint, you can boost certain skills and teach them Specialties (Mineralogy, Eye for Detail and Smithing can help you strengthen weapons using mineral ore) Not only that, there's a skill called Appraising, which means that if you get something like "?ITEM/?WEAPON/?MINERAL" and use the Spectacles item (one use only....whatever) you can identify what it is....but it doesn't always work....which means you may have to use MORE SP just to.....is it clear yet? The entire system is dependant on LEARNING!

Now I get where this is going: knowledge is power, and just because you get a different kind of sword, it doesn't mean you yourself have gotten any better. There's a definite "survival" aspect in this game, but I think the transition is just too quick....and there aren't any tutorials!

The whole skill thing can backfire easily as well. If you're in a fight and want to hurry up to the next town, you can easily hit the triangle button (which pauses the battle) and select "Escape". You're home free, right? Wrong! You notice that one of your characters (controlled by the computer, yes, only one character can be controlled by you in the battles, since they are real time) is using God Speed....and he's already half-way across the field.....into the enemy ranks. Chances are that this guy will be killed off before he can obey your command (it's happened to me a lot). Now you've lost a man and are in worse shape than before.


Your options? Well, you could always turn God Speed off (yes, each ability can be switched off at your whim) or you could access the Tactics menu for the character and select "Don't Do Anything", but honestly, who plans that far in advance? You might forget what you did later on!

This is the essence of my gripes concerning this game: too much of it relies on Skills, SP doesn't accumulate fast enough, and the Skills get more costly the higher up in level they go! That means even if I'm able to compete against strong monsters, I won't have enough SP to develop Talents, refine Item Creation, or other such options that add lovely depth to the game. It'll just take too long!

Final Fantasy VIII was criticized for it's unnecessarily complex Junction system. I think my argument is well-founded enough, but like I said, I've only pit 7 hours or so into the game and I plan on seeing it to the finish!

Other that these gripes I love the game. It's one of the best PSP titles to date, and I'll be securing a copy of Second Evolution after I beat this one.

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