Thursday, November 24, 2011

Corpse Party, you've just moved up my priorities list

Corpse Party came out this week on the PSP and I snapped it up since I'm always happy to support great companies like XSeed who will take a chance on games like this. I hadn't any plans to play it any time soon but after seeing this I really want to now!

Ys 1 & 2 Chronicles

Ys is a series I’ve never been into, or more accurately, haven’t had a chance to get into. The only European release I’ve been aware of was Ark of Napishtim which got a limited release by Konami and possibly a Master System release. For the longest time I never even knew the series existed. The weird play mechanics were you ‘bump’ into enemies rather than press an attack button kind of put me off playing the games as well. Xseed recently released three Ys games on PSP, Ys 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ys Oath in Felghana and Ys Seven, which are available as a UMD release in America and on the Playstation store in the US and EU. After hearing so much good word of mouth about the series I thought it was about time to try it out. So what better place to start than where the series began?

The first two Ys games have appeared on nearly every system imaginable, from Japanese home computers like the NEC PC-88, to the NES, PC, PC Engine CD and even a recent DS release. The PSP release is supposedly the definitive release according to fans. There’s been a lot love and attention paid to this collection and it shows. While some people have complained about the art I think high res 2D looks great especially on the PSP screen. Boss fights are visually stunning as are the use of effects like water reflections and some really snazzy light and shadow effects. You also have a choice of 3 soundtracks for each game, the original PC-88 soundtrack, the recent Ys 1 & 2 Complete soundtrack from the PC version and a new re-mastered soundtrack for the Chronicles collection.  The Ys series is famed for its amazing soundtracks, the first two games are composed by the legendary Yuzo Koshiro, and this collection doesn’t disappoint. I’m particularly fond of the chiptune PC-88 tunes, although the guitar rock of the chronicles soundtrack has its cheesy charms. All three soundtracks are available at any time from the menu.

The ‘bumping’ mechanic wasn’t as weird as I initially thought it would be and it’s actually quite intuitive. You have to run into an enemy slightly off centre to damage them, running into them head on will damage you. Grinding for levels is easy and lots of fun. Initially killing enemies is slow going since they require multiple attacks to take them down, but Ys is a series were even one level or a better weapon makes all the difference. Levelling up is fast and in no time you should be ploughing through enemies as they explode in a hilariously over the top shower of body parts and blood until you reach a new area presenting a tougher challenge. The game plays at a blistering pace; the main challenge is handling the speed of the main character Adol and hitting enemies accurately. Ys has been compared to Zelda but its really far more action orientated. There are also light RPG elements; nothing more complicated than levelling up and equipping new armour and weapons.

Ys has a large male fanbase?
Out of the two games Ys 2 is definitely the better. Ys 1 is fun and well worth your time but it has some archaic design flaws, chief of which is how obtuse some of the puzzles are, which can leave the player unable to progress the story. Xseed recognised this and have thankfully included a walkthrough of the first game in the manual to help players out. There’s really no shame in using it since the meat of the game is having to skill to pass the rock hard boss fights, not solving obscure puzzles. Ys 2 is a much longer and more satisfying game, although it’s not without the odd obtuse puzzle; again there’s no harm in checking an FAQ if you are stuck. The RPG mechanics have been enhanced, Adol can learn new magic spells and there’s some weird items to experiment with, my favourite being one that disguises you as a monster so you can walk around and chat to all the enemies in the game.

Ys 1 & 2 Chronicles is a loving homage to the original games and makes a great introduction to the series for new players. The fast pace and simple RPG mechanics combine to make a game that’s quick to pick up and play but remains compelling to the end. It’s also recommended for anyone looking for a stiff old school challenge. Xseed’s localisation is excellent as always. I’d like to thank them for bringing this series to my attention and I can’t wait to try some more of Nihon Falcoms games.

By the way, it’s pronounced like ease not why’s :-)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Halo 3: ODST

Most people that know me know that I don't regard the Halo series as highly as most. Maybe it was because I had access to gaming PCs since 1997 so didn't see the big deal about Halo. Some people saw some huge leap in the FPS genre. I just was a really well made FPS game that had some flaws (reuse of assets and the Flood being so lame). I can be a bit critical of the games but I do enjoy them, just some people think I hate them and attack me for it. Well, maybe the single player portion of Halo 2 was rubbish but other than that I do think they are good games.

Halo 3: ODST however I really don't like. After reading about how much it changed the basic Halo formula and the good reviews I picked up a copy cheap and played while I was taking a much needed break from Dark Souls. I wasn't expecting to be blown away but I also wasn't expecting it to be so bland. The open world sections of the game are a good change of pace but I don't think the game really pulls them off that well. It's not very often that you meet a covenant patrol and they are so small that they don't put up much of a fight. It's a bit of a wasted oppurtunity. The game goes back to traditional Halo during many of the flashback sequences and while these are fun, it's really more of the same Halo gameplay. The game finally takes a nose dive in quality during the final stretch when the plot gets so ridiculous and stupid that I can't believe nobody at Bungie complained before ending on a whimper. The dialogue throughout the game is also badly written and laughabl in some places. The only part of the game that didn't disappoint was the surprisingly good soundtrack.

I also got Halo Reach at the time and wwas prepared to be disappointed again but so far it actually seems like a really solid game. So far it all takes place it large open environments were the series excels and forgoes the linear tight corridors made of repeated art assets. It seems to be the Halo game that the series has been trying to be for the last 10 years.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Rule of Rose

 Rule of Rose has become for me one of the hardest games to track down for a reasonable price. The game was the unfortunate victim of ridiculous and sensationalist controversy started by politicians looking for an easy target to raise their profile and wasn’t helped by some of the worst members of the press, such as the absolute arse rag of a paper the Daily Mail, exasperating it. False allegations of sadomasochistic sequences involving minors and scenes of a sexual nature between children were entirely fabricated and despite ELSPA, the videogames rating board in Europe, giving the game a 16+ rating and releasing a statement that these allegations were false, publisher 505 GameStreet decided against releasing the game in the UK, which subsequently meant no release in Ireland. The game was released in the US by Atlus but has since become very rare. It’s a real shame that the game didn’t find a wider audience since it’s one of most interesting games on the PS2. I had to resort to ‘less scrupulous methods’ to play the game and am still on the lookout for a copy.

The Red Crayon Aristocrats
The cute Brown sniffing out clues
To say too much about the story of Rule of Rose would be to spoil it so I’ll keep it brief. The game is set during 1929/1930 in England. The protagonist, 19 year old Jennifer, finds herself at an orphanage before being kidnapped and taken aboard a zeppelin type airship where the majority of the game takes place. Throughout the game Jennifer is constantly harassed and bullied by a group of female children from the orphanage that call themselves the Red Crayon Aristocrats. Most of the characters are the other children from the orphanage and the few adults that run it. The story is told in quite an abstract manner but is ultimately intelligently written and isn’t obtuse or ambiguous for the sake of it and comes together in a satisfying conclusion. At the start of each chapter Jennifer is presented with a storybook and must discover the meaning of this storybook throughout the course of the chapter while the overarching story is slowly pieced together. Jennifer is helped by the lovable Brown, a dog that can be used to sniff out clues and items to help Jennifer. The story is what makes this game so special and handles some mature themes like child bullying and sexual abuse in a respectful manner.

There's some very uncomfortable moments in the game and while not explicit it's easy to put two and two together. 

 The game is beautifully presented. It’s a gorgeous looking game, one of the best on the PS2. Character models look great and are well animated and the environments are atmospheric and oppressive, complimented by a low light filter. I really like the small touches to the presentation such as the chapter title cards that are presented like a child’s pencil drawn flip book animation. The game is filled with CGI cutscenes that are of a very high quality, perhaps even bettering the work of Square Enix in this regard, and still look impressive today. The soundtrack is a real standout and is a mix of unsettling ambiance and orchestral and piano pieces that fit with the 1930’s setting; the fantastic title track is presented below. Voice acting is decent and all the characters have English accents, so no jarring Californian accents in a rural English setting thank god!

Combat is usually a total clusterfuck
Unfortunately I can’t say many good things for how the game plays. The puzzle solving is unambiguous and the use of brown to find clues is inspired. However combat is absolutely atrocious. Thankfully the best method for dealing with the enemies is to run past them but there are points where you have to face large groups of unavoidable enemies that can lead to frustration. There’s also a handful of ill-advised boss that don’t work and drag on for far too long. The creative directors of survival horror games like Silent Hill and Resident Evil have explain that the poor combat was a design choice to increase tension but in the case of Rule of Rose it’s just really bad and serves no purpose. I know it’s realistic to make Jennifer attack like the delicate flower she is but it shouldn’t be at the expense of making the game playable. Thankfully the poor combat isn’t a deal-breaker due to just how compelling the story is.

Rule of Rose has some big problems but I feel that, just like with Deadly Premonition, it’s worth sticking out the rough patches to experience what the rest of the game has to offer. It’s one of those games were combat is needlessly added and I feel the game would have been better off as a straight up adventure game and forgo combat entirely. However the imagination and creativity in the storytelling complimented by the excellent visuals and sound design make Rule of Rose a game that is well worth experiencing.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Mega Man vs. Mega Man X video

My girlfriend showed me this video yesterday by egoraptor which I found very interesting. If you are interested in good game design and hate the modern tedious tutorials then it's worth a watch: