Emerald Monthly Update – June 2017

Yeah, it’s a day late, I know. Let’s talk about two games from 2001, and one more modern-ish game. Final Fantasy X, Don’t Starve Together, and Castlevania: Circle of the Moon are on the chopping block today, so let’s get to it!


Final Fantasy X for Playstation 2

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Let’s strike while the iron is 16 years cold, shall we?

Final Fantasy X is, if you can believe it, the 10th installment in the Final Fantasy mainline series from Square Enix, released in 2001.

For those who don’t know, Final Fantasy is a long, old series of games dating back to December of 1987. They are Japanese Role Playing Games. Um…they are turn-based. So…so you have a party, right, of three to four people, and it’s like…you take turns hurting the enemy until you win. Final Fantasy is usually characterized by certain repeating mechanics and creatures, such as:

Chocobos, which are like giant ride-able golden chickens; the appearance of an airship you can control in the mid-to-late game; the spell naming conventions in order of power going ___, ___ra, and ___ga (ex: Fire, Fira and Firaga; Thunder, Thundara, and Thundaga); certain reoccurring enemies like the legendary dragon Bahamut; being resurrected by Phoenix Downs, and so on.

I’m having trouble finding out where to start with this. Final Fantasy games tend to be quite story and character driven. I usually critique games based primarily on their gameplay, because my philosophy is if the gameplay isn’t at least serviceable to mediocre, it doesn’t matter how great the rest of your game is. And with Final Fantasy, the gameplay is often the same all the way through – either simple, turn based systems, or turn based systems on somewhat of a timer. One tends to know what they’re getting into gameplay-wise if they’ve ever played a Final Fantasy game once before, save for anything past 11.

So…I’m going to have to go for things besides the gameplay, huh?

Well, you start off as a sort of sports star who ends up in a different world and essentially plays the “fish out of water” archetype. He’s kind of whiny at times, but isn’t a bad person by any means. He discovers many things, including a new religion, many wild beasts, skills…

…I’m kind of at a loss. See, I grew up with this game, and it’s kind of been a permanent part of my psyche since 2001. So, screw it, let’s talk about the funny shit in this game.

Yo, so, the game gets a lot of guff for its shoddy and stilted voice acting, but has anyone ever taken a minute to appreciate the totally bizarre “cinematography” during cutscenes? There are so many intense zoom-ins that have a weird visual effect, so many awkward fade-ins and fade-outs, so many just…bizarre cuts between not even just shot-reverse shot, but sometimes they forget to reverse it entirely!

And you know, this is the game that birthed the Tidus Laugh meme, but there are honestly so many other stilted voice acting examples that weren’t intended that I’m surprised they don’t get as much attention. Weird vocal inflections fester all through this game, people are oddly intense sounding in rather mundane situations, and blatantly not-intense when they clearly should be. Yuna in particular is an offender of the latter, especially in a “the reason you suck” speech late in the game which CALLED for an intense, strong display of willpower and determination which somehow sounded softer than a Tempur-Pedic mattress.

…I can’t really hate on this game.

On the one hand, I’ll be honest, there might be some childhood nostalgia bias, considering I was still in my single-digits when I played this game. However, I feel there’s still a certain charm to this game regardless. It’s kind of amazing how far we’ve come in terms of voice acting and camera direction since 2001, and I feel like Final Fantasy X is an awkward teenager trying as many different new things as it can to make people like it, while ultimately coming off as endearingly awkward.

Awwwww, remember way back when, when video games thought zoom-ins with intense fade effect layered over them were cool?

The story itself is surprisingly solid for Final Fantasy, considering the franchise has a bit of a reputation for shitting the bed at around the third act. The twist, while doesn’t make complete sense, does have satisfying outcomes and consequences for the characters at the end, and it doesn’t get to the insane levels of potential non-sense-making armageddon that previous Final Fantasies have (see: 8 and 9). It’s even got a bit of political commentary in it that would still be applicable to this day – a moral that says to not necessarily blindly accept everything you’re told as a culture, lest one be manipulated into falsehood.

Final Fantasy is an odd franchise to talk about. It tends to be received in one of three ways:
A. You love it
B. You hate it
C. You only like one or two games from it and think the rest are trash.

It’s one of those things that I think one would have to play for themselves to find out if they like it or not. But, at the very least I can relay what to expect from this game for those who want to try it out. You can expect…

Weird, bizarre cinematography from an awkward era of gaming
Odd, sometimes unintentionally hilarious vocal performances
Turn based role playing, complete with Hit Points, Magic Points, and super moves that build up over time until you can use them
A pretty solid story, but if you ever replay it, beware that you cannot skip cutscenes because games hadn’t figured out that was a thing they should do yet.
A 40+ hour play time
One character being clearly useless in battle compared to the rest of the cast (you’ll know the one after a while)
A leveling system that is aesthetically pleasing, yet bears only the illusion of choice when really it’s pretty much a frayed, but straight line.
An interesting history lesson on how early Playstation 2 games were trying to utilize the new hardware in different ways
Arguably the coolest party member in all of Final Fantasy (again, you’ll know)

If that sort of thing doesn’t seem like your bag, maybe move along to something else. If it does, then give it a shot!


Don’t Starve Together for PC

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Come to think of it, I’ve never talked about Don’t Starve here, have I?

So, yeah! Don’t Starve is a game from back in 2013 produced by Klei Entertainment, also producers of the engine of N+, as well as notable games Invisible Inc. and Oxygen Not Included.

It’s a crafting survival game, and yes, I know, those are a dime a dozen nowadays after the monolithic Minecraft popularized the genre, but this one differs itself in having a style I would describe as two cups of Tim Burton with a very small dash of Lovecraft. Your goal is right in the title – don’t starve – as well as don’t get killed by giant eyeballs on legs, mysterious swamp tentacles or a Christmas reindeer on enough steroids to make Mark McGuire blush. And if you can do some science, alchemy and magic along the way, well, that’s just a bonus. In the singleplayer, there’s an added goal of finding out the backstory of the man who trapped you in this unpleasent place to begin with, but lately I’ve been playing the multiplayer with a group of friends who won’t starve along with me.

The dynamic of multiplayer can be…interesting, to say the least. One person in the group dying causes everyone else to lose sanity faster and faster, causing them to start hallucinating and even being attacked by shadow creatures at extreme cases, so there’s certainly incentive to keep everyone alive. If one player attempts to strike out on their own, often times they’ll get punished hard for it and everyone else will have to pay for their mistakes until they can get the means to revive themselves.

Despite getting acclaim off of its original title, I feel this game was absolutely made for multiplayer. I’ve survived longer with friends than I ever had by myself, and seen things I’ve never honestly seen before. Customization options for the worlds you spawn in are quite user friendly, effective and just in-depth enough to make each world unique. And, of course, mods are aplenty and very fun to play around with, even if some of them make multiplayer unstable.

Overall, I’d say it’s a damn good multiplayer survival game packed with atmosphere and fun times. I’m…aware this is a rather short section, but I’m honestly not sure what else to say about it.


Castlevania: Circle of the Moon for Game Boy Advance

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Let’s talk about Castlevania. Again. For the third time in the run of these reviews. Can you tell I kind of have a thing for this franchise?

Castlevania: Circle of the Moon was released in 2001 on the Game Boy Advance, developed and produced by Konami. You play as Nathan Belmont, who promptly gets wrecked by Dracula along with his brother, resulting in a long free-fall into a tunnel system. Your brother runs ahead on his own and you’re left with nothing but your whip and your wits to navigate through Dracula’s castle once again in some 2D whipping action against skeletons, ghouls, flying swords, demons, and all other manner of monster.

You know, after looking at the review for this game, I realize I’m not gonna make any friends for this.

This game kinda suuuuucks…

My biggest grievances lie in design choices rather than game mechanics. I heard a few people had a problem with the DSS Card System, which struck some as not dark fantasy-ish enough, but as a mechanic I think it’s fine. I take issue, however, if I’m spotting rooms that are blatantly copy-pasted from each other, where the only difference is one monster placement.

Outright copying its own design aside, I feel like Circle of the Moon’s room designs seem rather samey. I found myself constantly forgetting what I had and hadn’t explored, constantly checking the map twice or three times per room, certainly not helped by my character’s molasses pace. A slower pace made more sense in the older Castlevania games where enemy placements were deliberate and specific because the levels were built in so they didn’t have to account for backtracking, but Circle of the Moon absolutely revels in its backtracking, and as such, enemy placements become clumsy to the point where some enemies are just totally cheap and unfair, but more to the point, unmotivated. It feels like a designer just threw monsters in each room that vaguely increased in power over progression, not thinking about how a player might strategically outfox them.

Save points seem less plentiful than usual as well, although that feeling might be due to my character’s default walk being slower than me on a Sunday. And yes, I know you get a sprint option, but constantly having to mash forward twice doesn’t feel good at all, especially when you have to re-mash forward twice to change direction. I would have loved an option to run by default, but truth be told, the run itself has the opposite problem of being too fast at times. Running into a room has multiple times resulted in taking hits, or being thrown into a pit that sends me all the way back to the beginning of the game like some demented game of Chutes and Ladders.

Can’t it just have been a default run right in the middle of those two? You know, like Symphony of the Night? Can’t this game have memorable, non-samey rooms that I get mixed up all the time like Symphony of the Night? I feel like this game was trying to meet Symphony of the Night and Super Castlevania 4 midway, but when you get down to it, they’re just different games with different design philosophies that don’t jive with each other at all.

And then there are monsters who have attacks that are just…infuriating, and rooms that are just…awful. The worst offenders are the Flame Demons, whose inverted fireball attack is nigh unavoidable and causes fairly high damage, which adds up when you have so few save points around, and the Bloody Swords, small red floating swords that dart around the screen, through walls to attack you and are extremely hard to hit.

One room in particular paired four or five Bloody Swords with another type of monster that, once touched by them, you can’t use any of your weapons for a time. This is the room that turned me from saying ‘Eeh, it’s kinda not great’ to ‘No, screw this game.’ Something is wrong when someone designs a level where your only hope to get through the room with more than half your health remaining is to use an invincibility powerup you may or may not have had drop earlier.

Scaling vertical rooms once you get the wall jump feels like work, feels clunky and isn’t fun. Discovering breakable walls is way too easy and hardly ever surprising. The music is unmemorable, aside from the admittedly good track from the first zone. The level design overall is samey and questionable, and the rooms themselves have nothing memorable, nothing that sticks out in the memory, they’re all so damn samey and I get turned around so often because of it! There’s no room like the chapel room with the multi-sword enemy, or long staircase with a skeleton head strapped to a spiky ball at the top, or a room with unlimited spawning fishmen, or…

…*sigh*. Am I being too hard on this game? Am I unfairly expecting Playstation 1 quality from a Game Boy Advance game?

I guess I’m just so disappointed. I started out actually really liking the game, but the further and further I got into it, the more and more it wore on me, it’s just stopped being fun. Whenever I died, I dreaded the hard trek all the way back through eerily similar looking rooms and through bullshit enemies to where I was before, only to not find a save point nearby and die yet again. The only thing I like about this game is the card powerup mechanics, and even then, the fact that they’re cards don’t really fit into the universe well. Something like, oh, I dunno, spirits being absorbed might have jived better, and you wouldn’t even have to change the mechanic itself.

I don’t like this game, and I don’t want to play it anymore.

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