Emerald Gaming Update – April 2016

This was, for me, the month of nostalgia. I went back to a lot of games and franchises I played and loved before, wallowing in my wide-eyed past that I can’t regain anymore.


Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for Sega Saturn

headerCastlevania

Oh yeah. Ohhhhhhh yeah. Symphony of the Night is awesome. I’ve played this game at least once every year since 2005 when I got it for my birthday on the PS1, and later when it was included in Dracula X Chronicles for the PSP (before my PSP got stolen back in 10th grade…)

Point is, I know this game like the back of my hand and love it to bits. Which is why, for the first time, I decided to play the Sega Saturn version after finding out it had extra areas, items and bosses I’d never played before. I was absolutely stoked to have fresh new places to explore in this game I’ve loved since childhood, and for the most part, I wasn’t too disappointed.

A bit of background info, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is a 2D action platformer with RPG elements that came out back in 1997 on the Playstation 1 originally. It was developed and published by Konami, back when they did good games on a regular basis (yes, believe it or not, that was a thing that happened, kids). This baby is widely regarded as one of the best Castlevania games ever made, and is considered a classic by many nowadays. Any Castlevania fan worth their salt would probably be able to recite at least parts of the horribly awesome hamfest of voice acting in the prologue.

You play through most of the game as Alucard, Dracula’s son (Dracula has zero creativity in naming his offspring), with the goal of slaying your aforementioned father. Along the way, you go through his massive castle of monsters, traps, and various mythical creatures all set out to defend their vampire master. You get experience, level up, find new weapons and items progressively stronger and different in technique, and can explore around the winding and interconnected castle labyrinth.

Technically in the Saturn version, there are four new areas, two in the first half and two in the second half. It’s also worth noting that the Saturn version isn’t available in English, and only comes in Japanese, so if you don’t already know what you’re doing, I’d strongly recommend playing through the proper English release first.

You know the general deal now, reader. I adore this game, I know it well, and you now know what sort of game it is. Now it’s time to address the differences in versions.

The main difference I found was that the Saturn version was waaaaaaaaay easier, and that’s mostly due to the Cursed Prison area and the Astral Dagger within. I found the Cursed Prison very early on in the game and for whatever reason, each kill there leveled me up, and it wasn’t hard for me to take down some of the folks there even if they hit hard. Eventually, I felt I got pretty overleveled for the whole game because of this. Inside of the Cursed Prison area, you can find the Astral Dagger, which is a small, very powerful, very quick blade for early game. The only drawback it has – the length – is also somewhat mitigated by its magic ability. Do a quarter circle from down to forward, then swing, and it’ll activate, floating off and dashing its way into an enemy from long range before returning to you. Between these two factors, the game was stupidly easy for me and I blazed my way through it.

A couple of other differences to mention, there’s a new relic called the Godspeed Shoes that you get halfway through the game. With a simple double-press of forward, you nearly double your walking speed. This is an amazing addition in my mind, as it makes traversing around much easier and faster. It’s just a nice convenience factor.

Finally, a short mention of the new boss midway through the game, the Maria boss was really interesting and well done, I thought. She actually proved a bit of a challenge, and her theme in that battle is great!

Overall, I would still pick the original PS1 release over this. As cool as a lot of the features are, the PS1 version is, in my mind, a tighter package.


Pokemon Blue for Nintendo Game Boy

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I have decided to play through all of the mainline Pokemon games, one per generation. My very first Pokemon game was Pokemon Yellow, and I subsequently played Silver, then Emerald. After that I jumped two generations and went straight to Pokemon Y, and I dabbled in Alpha Sapphire and LeafGreen too.

Friends. I love me some Pokemon a lot more than I should.

I was going to try with criticizing Pokemon Blue on an objective, fresh point of view, and I’ll still attempt to do a bit of that, but also I’m going to be comparing them to the others I’ve played (not unfairly, I hope). The truth is, Pokemon has been so ingrained in me that it may not be possible to have a fresh take on it anymore. So, here we go, striking the coldest iron to date.

For those unfamiliar, Pokemon is a Japanese Role-Playing Game published by Nintendo and developed frequently by Game Freak. Like many old JRPGs, you control your player character from a top-down perspective, and the game runs on random encounters in which you find monsters that you can capture in a ball, and train for your own uses in battle. You gather these monsters, each with their own personality that you can tell simply by their design, and travel through the game with them, fending off other random encounters, other trainers, and eventually taking on the bosses – Pokemon Gym Leaders. Your goal is to beat all eight Gym Leaders, then traverse the final gauntlet of Victory Road. You fight, level your Pokemon up, have them gain new moves, and most excitingly, evolve them into similar-but-better Pokemon!

It’s a game loop that, in concept, would seem utterly absurd to an outsider, but what can I say? They got me early in life.

Pokemon Red and Blue are the first set of games in the series (the differences between the two aren’t major) released in 1998, and this was technically the first time I’ve played one of the original two. As such, I noticed a lot of things that later pokemon games don’t do, many of which annoyed the hell out of me, so get ready for some nitpicking!

Alright, one, in some of the dungeon areas you’ll have two exits that are in wildly different areas, and they’ll both boot you out into the same entrance you came in from. This is what I like to call a hot mess of male cow excrement. This happens in at least two different areas in the game, and each time it’s infuriating because it resets me to the actual entrance rather than the place I walked out from just then, losing all my progress in that dungeon in the process. When I expected a new area to traverse, all I got was booted outside. No. Wrong. Not good.

Two, this seems to be the only game where, whenever I tried to catch a legendary Pokemon (a one-of-a-kind Pokemon) the Pokeballs will straight up miss. I have absolutely no idea why they miss, and this never happens in any other game I’m aware of. It seems absolutely unfair, and resulted in me not even getting a chance. There’s no accuracy stat as far as I know, there’s no sign that told me this that I’m aware of. I just couldn’t do it for some arbitrary reason.

Three, man…man oh man, I forgot how primitive the art was. A Geodude looks like a mudball when it’s supposed to be solid rock. This is purely a personal gripe.

Four, and this is true of many Pokemon games, I don’t care how many Repels you give me, interrupting long chains of puzzles with random encounters is nigh unforgivable. This was particularly infuriating in the ice cave place where I could have encountered up to three Pokemon in a row before getting to the next phase of the puzzle. It’s one thing if the encounters are quick like Hyperdimension Neptunia can be, but nah, they have a whole intro fanfare, a whole outro fanfare, attacks take a couple of seconds each…it adds up, look, I know saying it right now doesn’t sound too bad but trust me, it adds up. Especially during a puzzle section.

Five, when you finally get through all eight Gyms and get to Victory Road, if all your pokemon faint in Victory Road, it boots you back to before the beginning and makes you trek all the way back, and Victory Road is one of the biggest dungeons in the game, as well as the penultimate challenge in the game. If you faint, it all resets and you have to go allllllll the way up it again. Can’t even fly there.

Finally, the Exp. All item, which is supposed to give all your Pokemon in the backseat of your party a portion of your Exp. earned for leveling up, is garbage. It gives your pokemon far too little and the time it takes to cycle through every single one of the pokemon individually taking their small portion of the experience, you could have probably beaten a second encounter by then because it’s soooo sloooow.

So, uh, yeah. Sorry Gen One-ers, I can’t in good faith say that Gen One is the best. It’s kind of hard to go back to nowadays, for me personally. My balls missed too often. No one likes missing balls.


Tomba 2 for Playstation 1

headerTomba

Oh man, this one might be an obscure one. Tomba 2: The Evil Swine Return is a Playstation 1 game developed by Whoopie Camp. What, never heard of them? That would probably be because all they ever developed were Tomba and Tomba 2, and after awful sales due to the lack of discs in circulation, they went out of business in 2000, although most of them ended up at Access Games.

Yes. Little did I know that SWERY, the mind behind Deadly Premonition and D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die, was also a designer for Tomba 2 back in the day. And for making a game that I loved so much as a very young child, SWERY, I have nothing but gratitude for you.

Anyways, Tomba 2 is a bit of an odd platformer game where your girlfriend Tabby gets captured and you have to go and save her. Your classic damsel in distress tale? Well, I haven’t played all the way through, to disclaim, but it kind of seems like wherever you go, Tabby was there just before you arrived, and was actually quite autonomous, handling things for herself until a glowy orb that talks announces that he actually captured her. Still, as far as basic motivation for your protagonist, we ain’t re-inventing any wheels here, but that’s fine as long as execution and controls are solid.

As for the controls…hmm…how do I explain this? Okay, say you’re playing original, 2D Mario, right? Now, imagine if you would, that in this 2D Mario game, if you pressed up or down on your directions, the game would shift entirely in perspective in a 90 degree angle for you to move in these two new directions, while still retaining that you can only run left or right.

It’s a bit weird to describe for me because I can’t currently think of any other game off the top of my head that controls its perspective this way. You’re always moving either left or right, but you can choose which axis you want to move left or right in on certain areas.

Having difficulty understanding? Don’t worry, I had trouble too when I was playing it again for the first time in a decade and a half.

Because of the…let’s call it unique perspective controls, it was quite difficult at first to wrap my head around what was going on. Eventually I wrangled it to the point that I could deal, and once I did, I found that in my hands was a game that seemed pretty good for its time.

This was a disappointment to me.

What you need to understand, dear reader, is that when I was seven or eight years old, this game was my jam. It was easily my favorite game of my pre-10-year-old era, more than Yoshi’s Island, more than any Final Fantasy. Yes, the pink-haired, green-shorts-wearing half-ape-looking guy trumped the plumber in my eight year old eyes.

Could Mario use a freaking morningstar right off the bat?

No?

Well, that settles that.

Unfortunately my eight year old mind wasn’t nearly as well versed in gaming as I am now. Hell, I wouldn’t trust eight year old me pouring his own bowl of cereal (trust me, he spills it everywhere every single time.) I wasn’t able to pick up on a lot of the weirdness of this game as a kid, and I didn’t have perspective to realize that the voice acting was absolutely hillarious. Yes, a Playstation 1 game fully voice acted, and by god is it worth it to sit there and listen to every narmy, cringe-worthy line if you’re drunk off your ass with friends, because that, dear reader, is a good time waiting to happen.

While I said before that your main motivation is finding your girlfriend, that’s not really the name of the game. The real thing you do is chores, chores, chores, chores, chores! Aw yeah, bring those eggs to the bird mama and make ’em hatch, ride an overly dangerous, overly fast trolley to deliver cement before it dries, catch golden crabs for someone, put a fire out in a poor old man’s house, do the objective and get the points to keep doing the objectives to keep getting points! This particular portion hasn’t aged too well, because while it keeps a quest log of sorts, it just lists the title of the objective at hand and no real description after, so if you had a quest entitled, say, Frog-Bums With Tomba, it could mean a myriad of things. Do you want me to slap a frog’s bum? Do I need an item that turns Tomba’s bum into a frog bum? Do I need to bum a frog? Do I need to cook frog bum and serve it to hungry miners? It never says, so a few times I found myself aimlessly wandering around trying every door and person to talk to again.

Speaking of talking, that’s also pretty inconvinent in this game. Whenever you talk to someone, a little tune appears, your bug friend flies out and talks for you because you can’t talk due to Mute Protagonist Syndrome, and a conversation takes place. At the end of that conversation, the bug flies back into your pink ‘do and the conversation is over. If you’re a fast reader, the amount of time you took to read that last sentence was about as long as each conversation takes if you skip the dialogue. This is bad enough, but the issue is exasperated by however many NPCs there are to talk to, which is surprisingly a lot.

This can get very grating, very quickly, and is probably the biggest reason I haven’t yet gotten too far in it. It just takes so much time, or at the very least it feels like it takes so much time.

I’m going to keep playing it because I want to see this one through. I’ll have more to say next update, I’m sure. It’s not a bad game, persay, just a very odd one with very odd choices clearly birthed from the beginning of 3D gaming, when people hadn’t settled into a formula yet.


Bloodrayne: Betrayal for PC

headerBloodrayne

This one was something I played a demo of back in 2011 when I didn’t have my own money, and at the time I thought it was pretty cool. Because 2011 is a year before I turned into a legal adult, I consider it nostalgic for me in that regard. I remember being interested in the game, as it basically looked like an original Castlevania style game with a sexy protagonist (remember, this was 17 year old me, who could fall for that sort of crap easier…no, don’t bring up Hyperdimension Neptunia again please).

Bloodrayne: Betrayal is a pretty standard side scroll-y affair: move from left to right for the most part, hit bad guys until they’re dead, beat the boss at the end. The presentation in-game is pretty slick, but there was something that bothered me about the title screen’s depiction of our main character, Rayne. I dunno exactly why, but it looks like something off of Deviantart, and it rubs me the wrong way. Maybe I’m nitpicking.

Let’s talk about stuff less nitpicky, like the backflip mechanic. In game, as you’re running, a very high backflip jump requires you to abruptly turn the other direction mid-run, and very quickly afterwards press the jump button. This mechanic is essential for dodging and getting up to high places, so my question is why in the hell did they make it so convoluted to perform such a core function!?!?!? Half the time it doesn’t even work, and I swear I have the timing down nearly each time.  This was the main reason I couldn’t get past one of the latter bosses, Kagan, whose stupid minotaur add means you have to backflip to avoid it, or else take stupid amounts of damage.

Ah, yeah, let’s talk about bosses for a minute. Rayne, your main character, is a vampire, and at any time she can take a staggered enemy, suck the blood out of them, and regain health for it. This is a really cool function, especially since it’s an insta-kill and you get swarmed pretty quick by enemies. My question, then, is as follows: why, during the boss literally made of congealed blood with a heart at its center and nothing else, in an arena pooling with blood, can’t Rayne just crouch down and sip up some of the arena blood for health? This should be an absolute cakewalk for Rayne, she has unlimited lifeforce at her feet. Instead, it’s one of the most annoyingly difficult bosses because, once again, backflipping is unreliable.

Seriously, couldn’t they have just mapped backflip to the left bumper or something? Or any of the buttons not in use, of which there are a few? They had to make such an essential function so stupid to pull off?

The same blood problem can be applied to the Kagan boss as well, which, while he doesn’t have a blood arena, shoots out blood projectiles for pretty decent damage if you get hit by too many of them. I can just imagine Rayne opening up her mouth cartoonishly wide like an Ed Edd n’ Eddy character and gulping down each of the projectiles Kagan delivers to her for massive strength.

As much as I complain, and as much as I hated Kagan so much that I decided not to bother trying to get past him anymore and drop the game altogether, the gameplay itself feels very slick, and I can really appreciate that. If I were giving scoring, And the soundtrack isn’t too awful either. I’d probably deliver this around the ballpark of a six out of ten if I did traditional scores. An interesting, half classic Castlevania, half Super Meat Boy-esque ride that just sort of seemed underdeveloped. It could have used more time in the oven to bake all the myoglobin out.


Other Quick Updates

Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed for PC

I went back to this one to try the Gamindustri Gauntlet mode.

It’s not worth it. It’s just a tournament of one-on-ones against the playable characters. It’s hard and I think has something to do with the level you’ve gotten the other characters to at that time…it’s dumb and I got my ass kicked a lot so I may be salty but…it’s dumb so whatever.

Dark Souls for PC

So I’m a poor broke-ass college student that can’t really justify spending 60 dollars on any new release no matter how good it is or how bad I want it. To that end, I’ve been wallowing in Dark Souls 1, to keep the spirit up until Dark Souls III’s price gets dropped down or until I get a sudden wad of cash thrown my way. I’m trying to run with the Great Scythe the whole way through and it’s pretty fun. I’m thinking of beating it and then going to Dark Souls II with the exact same character in mind.


And that does it for this month! Look forward to my next month where I’ll try to get through Pokemon Silver and maybe make more progress in Tomba 2! Also, I’ll be playing my very first Tales game, Tales of Vesperia, compliments of the friend who lent it to me~. Have a good May, and good luck to all you on your finals!

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