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Psychotic Reviews: Dragon Force

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Holy crap this game rules! Dragon Force is a rather unique strategy game for the Sega Saturn that mixes turn based strategy with real time tactical movement, decision making, and party building. Development was started by a company called J-Force, but Sega itself eventually took it over and finished it. In North America it was localized and released by Working Designs. Sega used Working Designs’ English translation for the European release of the game.

Dragon Force focuses on a continent wide war between various kingdoms and empires. The continent is called Legendra, which is a terrible name. There are eight total kingdoms to choose from, but only six are initially available. The rest are unlocked after the first time beating the game.

Each kingdom gets control of various Generals, either by recruiting them by searching in various castles, or by recruiting captured commanders. There are ten different types of Generals, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. There are ten main types of common soldier types as well, and each of these have strengths and weaknesses as well. The manual includes a table detailing the effects that common soldiers have against other types.

Now, with so many different countries and stories to choose from the game is built in with plenty of replayability. For this review I just played one scenario from start to finish and dabbled in a few others. I picked Highland as my main campaign, and after playing it this one does seem to be designed to be a tutorial type of campaign. Highland is rather isolated so you do not have to worry about border wars early on, and there is an easy peaceful annexation of Palemoon. It makes me think that Lord Wein and the elf Queen Teiris will be more than friends after this giant war.

Given this easy annexation I then stormed Tristan to basically conquer the entire Eastern half of Legendra. The rest of the conquest then focused on the Western half, picking off kingdom after kingdom until I finally took down Goldark. The threat continues as the evil being Madruk is still working to be awakened, so simply conquering Legendra is basically the first half of the game.

This game is quite fast paced in the beginning, but gets bogged down in the middle. You can just run around and storm castles all day long, making sure your enemies have little and later, nothing to counter your assault with. Once you’ve finished the conquest absolute chaos ensues but you can basically spend the time just grinding levels until you’re ready to easily blitz through the rest of the game. Turns start taking quite a long time though when you’re storming castle after castle and being counterattacked. Just before I was done conquering it wasn’t unfounded to have single turns take nearly an hour or more! So this game ends up being a major time sink, and its why I’ve just been pecking at it for months while I stroll through other games.

Each one of these scenarios by itself is quite long and rewarding, and if you could only pick one Saturn game to have on the system until the end of time, and only that one game, this would be a great candidate. Is it worth the price tag? It is if you enjoy the game and play through every single campaign to see the story unfold from so many different perspectives. This game is not cheap though, so in most cases it may be one of the last games that anybody collecting for the Saturn will pick up.

Psychotic Reviews: Suikoden Tierkreis

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Suikoden Tierkreis was the second game to be made by Konami for a non-Sony system, but it was the first of those games to be released outside of Japan. Suikoden Card Stories is basically a retelling of Suikoden II as a trading card game and was released on the Game Boy Advance exclusively in Japan. I have no idea what I’m doing in that game, but I do know what’s going on in Tierkreis for the Nintendo DS mostly because of the English language. Tierkreis was the first Suikoden game since the release of Suikoden V on the PS2, and was anxiously awaited by fans of the series since there was about a three year gap between releases.

Tierkreis is a complete and total spinoff of the series. It has absolutely nothing to do with the main numbered series. As a result of this it introduces its own world with its own set of rules, all new characters, and new political entities. There are some familiar elements from previous games, such as the headquarters and 108 Stars of Destiny to recruit. This game calls them Starbearers though.

Some of the most loved design choices from the main series are gone for this game. There are no tactical battles, there are no one-on-one duels. Well, technically there are some one-on-one fights, but these take place in the normal party based battle system. The familiar cinematic system of dialogue and counters is nowhere to be seen. The weapon sharpening system has been axed in favor of equippable weapons. What was a nice way for characters to have more defined personalities was replaced by the ultimate ‘throwaway character’ system.

Many of the plot elements are unfolded through the job board. A number of these end up with the recruitment of more Stars, but some are just there for money making purposes. Thankfully, not all recruitments involve this board, so you still have to explore towns and other areas to find out where people are hiding out. You make most of your money in this game by actually moving the plot forward, as you can turn in these missions at the job board to earn a big paycheck.

This game still focuses on political machinations and the various ambitions of the independent rulers of their respective areas. Unlike the main games there are many different nations, kingdoms, tribal areas, and cities all within the game world. There is a religious, militant, zealous imperial styled country, a magical kingdom, a city of porpoise people, a tribe of felines, a kingdom of swordsmen, as well as smaller villages.

Tierkreis’ world is described as being much larger than just the explorable area, as there are many worlds connected by gateways. There is another tribe that specializes in using these gateways to travel between worlds and use items they find to trade in other worlds. This also lets characters from other worlds visit your own, but sadly the reverse is not true. It would be awesome to have small areas to explore in other worlds while keeping the plot focused on the main world.

This is not completely unique to this game though. The idea of other parallel worlds existing has been blatantly mentioned in previous games, including the first two, Suikogaiden II, Suikoden IV and Tactics. Some stars of those games are theorized to be from other worlds, but this idea was never the focus of any of the stories from those games, just one piece of a massive puzzle. Tierkreis is completely focused on not only the fact that these parallel worlds exist, but how they are related to each other.

The lack of tactical battles really hurts the feeling of grandeur that previous games give. Going into a different screen where there are units to maneuver, tactics, and strategy to earn a victory is just much more satisfying. In Tierkreis you usually make one to three parties and each one gets a couple normal battles, maybe a boss battle, and then you’re on your way.

The music is a big step down from the main series. Short loops make their return from the first Suikoden, but each area gets its own unique tracks. The visuals are quite nice for a handheld of the time, and most characters have multiple pieces of art to represent different emotions and facial expressions. The game even has voice acting! I do not care much for the voice acting on the main characters. It sounds like somebody gave the VA for the main character an extra $20 to say all of his lines as fast as possible, so he is hard to understand since words fly out of his mouth. He also has a lame catchphrase: “We don’t know what’s going to happen until we try!” That might make some more sense after you play the game though. The others range from good to mediocre, but with the game’s budget this is probably better than one might expect.

Overall Tierkreis is a fine game for what is offered here. It works well, the story is a bit simpler than the main series entries, but it is worth a look even if you’re not a fan and are looking for a fun RPG to play on the go. If you’ve played the main games before this may feel underwhelming with all the changes and omissions, but the game is fine for what it tries to do and give the player. The story works well, but the localization is quite messy at times with punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes fairly consistent throughout the game.

Psychotic Reviews: The Legend of Oasis

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The Legend of Oasis is the followup/prequel to Beyond Oasis. It was also developed by Ancient and composed by the studio’s founder Yuzo Koshiro. It was released in 1996 for the Sega Saturn and was built off of the same engine that powered Beyond Oasis (The Story of Thor for those outside North America). The Legend of Oasis keeps the same feeling and exploration style of the first game while introducing new puzzles and a new map.

The Legend of Oasis features beautiful, hand drawn 2D art and characters and shows off the system’s 2D capabilities quite well. The first game looked great on the Genesis, and the followup also looks great on the Saturn. Despite being scored by Koshiro, the music seems to take a backseat for the most part. Its rather quiet and reserved, and there are long pauses between tracks, even when the track is on a loop. The voice samples used are of high quality and Koshiro makes good use of the available CD audio, both of which put his accomplished sound design abilities on display.

In The Legend of Oasis, there are more spirits to recruit and use. On top of the original four from Beyond Oasis (Bow was renamed to Bawu for this game), there are two additional spirits, Brass and Airl. Brass has the power of sound, which can shatter crystals and break up electrical currents, and Airl has the power of air. The four returning spirits play the same roles as they did in Beyond Oasis. Bawu has some added voice samples including a chuckle when he gets bored and a sigh when he doesn’t have anything to eat.

One significant change in The Legend of Oasis is that weapons no longer break, and level up by finding newer versions of them in dungeons. There are also scrolls that unlock special abilities for the weapons, and orbs which can power them. The use of food items has also changed in that now you are instantly healed when you pick them up instead of being stored as inventory items to use when you need them.

Unlike the first game, there is a much greater emphasis on the dungeons instead of a more balanced mixture between dungeon diving and overworld exploration. I feel like this is a step back, given that the outdoor areas in Beyond Oasis were filled with secrets and mini games. The overworld also served as a great way to separate dungeons from each other and give the player some breathing room. In The Legend of Oasis there are dungeon entrances within the depths of other dungeons, such as Shade’s Shrine of Darkness located within Brass’ Forest of Sound.

Overall, it feels like The Legend of Oasis was a step down from its Genesis predecessor. The Story of Thor series was laid to rest in only two games and ended on a rather mediocre adventure. However, one highlight of this game is that it does show you how the additional two spirits were to be used, since that weren’t in the Genesis game.

Psychotic Reviews: Crash Bandicoot: Warped

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After the criticisms of the second game Naughty Dog regrouped and started working on a new followup. This third in the series would be the most ambitious yet. After two extremely successful games Naughty Dog had a large budget to work with, but less than a year to build and finish the game. Like its predecessors the game saw immense success in Japan, and dethroned Crash 2 as the most successful Western developed game in the country. It was the first non-Japanese game to earn the Platinum Prize for selling over 1 million copies in Japan alone.

Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped would move away from the tropical islands somewhere off the coast of Australia and have our heroes trek through time. Dr. Neo Cortex is one again Crash’s adversary, but he is shown as little more than a subordinate under the powerful mask Uka Uka. Since Crash has had his own mask since the beginning this only serves to increase the rivalry between the two as well as deepen the story of the series. Each world’s boss also contacts Crash a couple times as you beat levels, so even they get more character development than most video game bosses. I’m not sure how many people really care about the story of platformers, but its there if you do.

In my review of the second Crash game I had some issues with the level design, and that level design showed unpolished physics which hurt the controls. The level design has been changed more to focus on the 3D elements of the Crash formula. Side scrolling is used fairly sparingly. The ice problems are gone as a result of the time trekking levels, there’s just not an Ice Age level in sight! Much more variety has been added to the overall level design. There are racing, jet ski, and flying levels on top of the usual platformers, so this game has wonderful shifts of pace that keep you on your toes.

There are also more playable characters. Crash’s sister Coco is available as the playable character in certain levels only, and like Crash she gets to ride a cute little animal (a tiger in her case), ride a jet ski, and fly through the skies. Crash does all the racing though, which only shows that the team was already building Crash Team Racing when they were developing this game. As you defeat bosses you get extra abilities to help you explore future levels and complete the bonus areas. These also help to access previously blocked off areas in previous levels.

The difficulty has been toned down quite a bit. I did not run into any problems getting through levels until the last few, and even those were not hard to overcome. Boss fights are mostly a joke, and a formality. Because of the lowered difficulty this feels the most kid friendly of the trilogy. This game could seem easier to me though since I did own this growing up, and I might still have some muscle memory buried deep down in the back recesses of my mind. Overall I do consider this the best game in the trilogy, despite the low difficulty. There’s just so much variety and fun to be had in this game. If you’re looking for legitimate challenge the first Crash is what you want. In my opinion the second game is the worst in the trilogy, but its by no means a bad game, just annoying.

Psychotic Reviews: Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back

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The international success of the first Crash Bandicoot allowed Naughty Dog to get started on a sequel, and most of the team made the transition intact. This let them build on the ideas from the first game and polish its problems up, while adding new ideas. Sadly this created quite a few new problems. Despite all these new issues Crash 2 was more successful than the first game, replacing it in Japan as the best selling Western developed game when it released. Its international sales ended up with the game falling a bit short of its predecessor though.

If you recall my previous review of the first Crash, my main issue with it were the quirky controls. These have been improved slightly, but are still not where I would like them to be. Ice levels can be quite infuriating until you figure out how the game calculates momentum. That is to say, it doesn’t stop calculating momentum even after you smash into a wall. So these ice levels can involve you moving in place until this momentum will eventually stop, then you go flying in the opposite direction. Also beware of small boxes with gaps across from them, you might think that hitting the box would stop you, but if you try and immediately jump onto the box you will assuredly overshoot it and fall to your death. All of this is just trial and error and has absolutely no regard to player skill, you’re just meant to figure this out on your own and probably die doing so.

Progression and exploration have been changed as well, with a hub based world instead of a linear map system like the first game. Each hub has five levels, and you must find the crystal in each level before you can go on to challenge the boss and move onto the next world. Each world has a similar layout of levels though, and there’s not much variety. When you move from one world to the next you can expect to play a combination of a polar bear level, a rock level, an ice level, sewer level, a temple level, a jet ski level, or an outdoor island level in every single world. The only thing that changes is the actual layout of the level, gone are the unique backgrounds and settings that permeated the worlds of the first game.

Each level does contain a bonus area that you can use to gain extra lives, but you also need to break every box in these bonus areas if you wish to collect the gems. There are also secret areas in many levels that require a colored gem to access. These colored gems are extremely difficult to find, mainly because the way you get them is so cryptic. You will almost never guess or find how to get a single one of these colored gems without a guide. In the first game the colored gems were collected by just getting to a certain number of gems, so there was nothing special you needed to do other than find out which levels you can get a gem in without a colored one. For most of the game your success is limited to trial and error. Deathtraps litter the levels, so you’ll probably have to farm the early levels for lives so you can learn how to avoid cheap deaths. That really sums up how this game is designed.

There are some new additions to the control sceme, a slide and jump added onto the spin, a face plant to break certain boxes and kill some enemies. This adds in more variety than just a simple jump attack and the spin, but it fails to add enough to save the game’s poorly designed levels and bad physics as a result of said design. This may be the weakest of the original trilogy but I still have one game to play through and examine first.

Psychotic Reviews: Beyond Oasis

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Beyond Oasis is an action/adventure game developed by Ancient for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. It released quite late in the system’s lifecycle, late 1994 for Japan and 1995 everywhere else. Since Ancient was founded by Yuzo Koshiro it also includes a soundtrack composed by him. This is most likely Sega’s answer to The Legend of Zelda mixed with some Mana series since there are many similarities in gameplay design, puzzle solving, and progression.

You play as Prince Ali of the Kingdom of Oasis, and some bad stuff is starting to go down. One day while digging in an old ruin Prince Ali finds a gold armlet, which fixes itself to his wrist and tells him of his destiny to save Oasis. Clothing style and culture shows that the game is based on Middle Eastern mythology and literature such as the 1001 Arabian Nights. The gold armlet has the ability to control spirits, one of which is named after the class of infernal djinni Efreet.

There are differences with the weapon and item systems, as well as abilities. Ali starts off with a knife as your default weapon, this knife has unlimited uses but a short reach. You can pick up other weapons such as a bow, sword, and bombs for damage boosts, but these all break after a certain number of uses. Planning when and where to use your stronger weapons is a must, I usually saved them for boss battles.

Combat is quite fun as it offers great depth. It feels like you’re playing a brawler within your adventure game as Ali has kicks, swipes, stabs, jump kicks, flying stabs and slashes, flip attacks, and a spin attack. A lot of these attacks can only be used with your first knife though, so heavy damage weapons that can break are best used for more predictable fights like bosses. Each spirit has its own attacks as well, and these take large chunks of your SP down. Just having a spirit out will slowly deplete your SP bar.

The items you find mostly heal you. Ali has two stats to worry about, HP and SP. HP is your health, like it is every game that has HP. SP are your Spell Points, and these are used up just by having a spirit out or using a spirit’s magical abilities. These healing items are certain food items. Items like meat or cheese heals your HP while fruits heal your SP, still others heal both stats! You can also pick up powerups for your spirits, various weapons, and healing items in treasure chests scattered throughout Oasis.

There are plenty of secrets to find while exploring the world, even some hidden mini games that give quite nice rewards. In terms of following the storyline though the game is just as linear as any Zelda game. Beyond Oasis has the built in feature known as the “go-here” arrow when you’re off doing your quest. The map is stylized and fairly difficult to read when you’re first starting the game though. Once you’ve explored most of it the map will make sense.

The game feels quite balanced in its world design. You usually have nice area of outdoor overworld to explore while you make your way from dungeon to dungeon. The game also has a natural break between spirits. You can find the first two spirits quickly, but then Ali starts to work to unfold more of this mysterious group that is threatening his Kingdom before working to get the last two. Its a nice break between the two and lets the story keep you interested in what’s happening instead of breaking it up like this: get all spirits, uncover mystery.

A physical copy for the Genesis seems to be a bit uncommon, and its price ranges from $15-25 for a loose cartridge. This game has seen various digital releases and is on some modern compilations such as Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection and Steam.

Psychotic Reviews: General Chaos

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Now its been overdue for a nice nostalgia trip. Playing Saturn games was nice for a spell. I remember seeing the games on a shelf as a wee lad, and had no idea what the system was but thinking the big cases were the coolest thing I had ever laid eyes on. I did not know anybody with a Saturn though. I did know multiple people with a Sega Genesis though, and one of them had our game today, General Chaos. General Chaos was developed by Game Refuge Inc. and published by Electronic Arts.

General Chaos is a real time action game that can also be said to be an early RTS game, without the base building aspect of the modern genre though. This game focuses on micromanaging a squad of soldiers against another squad of soldiers, its much more tactical and the real time battle system sets it aside from many turn based games of the time like X-Com and is closer to playing like Syndicate. It was developed by Game Refuge Inc. This company’s founders, Brian Colin and Jeff Nauman, were well known as arcade developers for Bally/Midway, developing classics such as Rampage and Arch Rivals, and later followups such as Rampage: World Tour.

The art style is cartoony and the style is definitely going for completely whacked out and crazy. My friend did not have the box and manual for some reason though, so my recent purchase was glorified by flipping through the incredibly cheesy comic book right at the front of the manual. The graphics are quite good, and there is plenty of action on screen at any one time. There are multiple types of soldier, and each one has their own weapon, range, strengths, and weaknesses. How you move in the game and what type of squad you decide to go with can have a massive impact on your success in the field of battle! While the AI is rather stupid there is a two player option, and that’s what I remember playing the most at my friend’s house. We would blow the crap out of each other in this game and have a blast while doing it.

Playing the AI is a rather interesting affair. At first your opponents are quite stupid and just run into your fire, and winning Close Combat sections are quite easy. Its not too difficult to win outright and storm General Havoc’s capital city on this first round. You then have a choice to play again, and this time the AI ramps up the difficulty. It may take a few tries to best this medium difficulty. There is then a third tier of difficulty that’s even harder. This is it though. You can only play three rounds, for a nice gradient from easy, medium and hard.

This game is a cult classic now, and its quite easy to see why. This is a game that occupies a nice niche on the Genesis, it is almost completely unique on the system. The animation is quite smooth in the game, and during battle you are graced with nothing but the sound effects of gunfire and explosions. The music is nice when it shows up, and is some of the higher quality audio for the system. With a multitap you can have up to 4 people playing at the same time, so this game is definitely made for couch multiplayer. The multiplayer is what I remember enjoying the most as a kid, and its just as fun now as it was back then.

A sequel was posted on Kickstarter, but this was a complete failure. General Chaos II: Sons of Chaos was asking for $125,000 to create a high definition, hand drawn sequel of this game. It only managed to get just shy of $16,000 in the month it had.

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