Tuesday, December 18, 2007

RPG!

I've liked role playing games since I was a wee one, but I'm late to the electronic versions of RPGs since I never really thought that the graphics and limited game play on the early gen stuff could compete with the wide open, albeit imaginary, areas of a traditional RPG like Dungeons and Dragons. That changed when my brother turned me onto Final Fantasy X. If there was ever a gateway drug this was it since FFX is, at least in my very limited experience, one of the best single player RPGs to date.

It's worth pointing out that computer RPGs work much like their pen and paper ancestors: you start out with a base character(s) that fight monsters so that they can level up and fight harder monsters while gaining special abilities. All this leveling should sit atop a story that makes it worthwhile to spend hours in dungeons and whatnot leveling up your (hopefully) entertaining characters.

With that, let's take a look at some RPGs that I've blown some time on while I wait for Final Fantasy 13....

Xenosaga: Episode I

Synopsis: In the future Japanese anime type characters have to fight aliens and misguided...others, in order to...do....something.

Good points: Logged in at a brief (by RPG scales) 40 hours worth of game play. The game nails the 'space opera' motif with gargantuan ships performing feats that might be envisioned by the more pioneering minds. The artwork is quite 'Star War'-sie with narrow platforms over deep gaps and lots of flashing lights, robots, and all the other appropriate sci-fi stuff. Characters for the most part are entertaining. Oh yeah, did I mention that this series of games is best known for being watched for as long as they're played due to the length and frequency of their (for the most part excellent) cut scenes?

Bad points: Some enemies are uneven with bosses ridiculously harder than the run of the mill monsters in the dungeon and some bosses much easier than the creatures you had to fight to get to them. Like many newer RPGs you get more characters than you can have in battle at any one time, leading to half your characters sitting 'on the bench' and not fighting and thus (for the most part) not leveling up. The number of Characters and skills are wide, but shallow and for the back third of the game I found myself using the same two moves with the same three characters over and over and over again. The plot appears to have a Christian theme that was written by non-Christians (like all these games, it was made in Japan). I found out at the end of the game that 'Xenosaga 1' isn't like the Final Fantasy games wherein Final Fantasy 1-12 have absolutely nothing to do with each other; 'Xenosaga 1' is actually the first of a trilogy that I probably won't get around to playing out, despite the favorable reviews for the final entry.

Star Ocean: Till the End of Time

Synopsis: Galactic losers assault backwards planets and fourth dimensional near-do-wells.

Good points: Dungeon design is some of the best I've seen and the game features a punchy soundtrack. The story for the first half of the game is involving and interesting.

Bad points: The story eventually takes a third rate 'Matrix' type turn which elicits groans more than anything else. About the same time, in order to artificially pad the play time, the dungeon monsters get ridiculously overcharged further exposing the game's absolutely horrid leveling system wherein your characters can only really level up in a rather arbitrary bonus scheme. Fast paced battles are devoid of strategy and are more closely related to a dungeon crawler like Diablo. New abilities seem to be handed out randomly and bench characters don't level at all, meaning that adding new, irritating level 1 characters halfway through the game is completely pointless. I made it to the final boss, but didn't make an effort to beat him since I knew there'd be another serving of inane dialog on the other side of the fight. And lastly, and the big rub for me, despite being sold with a sci-fi motif, the game has very little to do with anything remotely 'sci-fi'.

Final Fantasy VII

Synopsis: Square's classic RPG where a rebel group of misfits attempts to save the planet.

Good points: I've not played an RPG that started as quickly as this one (check out the remade beginning cutscene). Although quite dated (it's ten years old at this point), someone took the time to re-do the character artwork (via the Reunion Patch) for the PC version, that I obtained completely legally. The characters are all quite entertaining, 'bench' characters level up (for the most part), and the story moves along nicely with some unexpected twists. Overdrives, summons, and swappable magic add a great deal of strategic depth to battles.

Bad points: What do you think of an extra large scoop of Japanese 'Pagan Christianity'? Most aggravating as well is Square's habit of putting mini-games into a game engine that's in no way built for action since their character controls are optimized for moving in one of four directions*. The final boss all but required a secret 'weapon' that required about four hours worth of one such minigame and everyone in the Sandmich house was ready to murder the man who conceived of the chocobo.

*Apparently those crappy minigames have a draw somewhere since they've started making mobile versions of them.

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