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Spooky Plays: Fatal Frame

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Before I get started I just want to say that Fatal Frame is absolutely NOT based on a true story. The producer of the series has gone on record to say that the story is based on two Japanese urban legends and ghost stories, so it is certainly not true at all. This was a marketing slogan that was slapped on the cover for Western Markets. In Japan it was released as Zero, with Project Zero being the European title. The game was developed and published by Tecmo in Japan and the USA, with Europe being quite a mess with system exclusive publishers.

You start the game controlling Mafuyu Hinasaki, who is investigating the disappearance of his mentor, author Junsei Takamine. Junsei went to the Himuro Mansion to do research for his latest project with a couple of assistants. Not all is as it seems in the Himuro Mansion, and it soon becomes clear that the dark rituals performed here are more than mere rumors. Its not long before Mafuyu ends up getting entangled in the strange happenings around this ancient mansion that seems to pay heed to much darker Shinto rituals than most would want the outside world to know.

Mafuyu’s sister Miku then enters the game as the main character. She’s out to find her brother, but soon discovers the story and fate of the author’s team, and even a family that moved in after the Himuro clan suddenly died out. Mafuyu discovers that an antique camera, called the Camera Obscura, given to him by his mother has the power to exorcise ghosts, and Miku soon takes it up to use as her only weapon against the ghosts inhabiting Himuro Mansion.

This opens up a unique style of combat that is thrilling and pretty much shoves the chilling and in some cases nightmarish ghost design. Some of these images will stick with you for quite some time, don’t be surprised if they pop up in your dreams after a long night at work. Miku looks through the camera, and the game shifts from the normal fixed and panning camera angles straight into first person mode. Miku must then focus the camera on the ghost and take pictures to damage it. There is a bar that charges up with energy the longer you look at the ghost, attacking when this is fully charged deals more damage. Attacking while the ghost is charging you and with full energy deals even more damage and gives a huge bonus!

The Camera Obscura can be upgraded from the Spirit Points you gain by fighting ghosts. The ghosts get harder and harder to fight as you move through the game, so these upgrades and extra skills you can unlock can become wonderfully helpful. You can upgrade the damage radius, speed of energy charging, and damage output. The Camera also runs on film that is its ammunition. There are four levels of film, with each stronger one having a more limited supply, and there’s no shop in this game. Determining when to use what type of film is a good idea, blowing through all your powerful film early can kill you when you need it the most.

The ghosts never seem to be too overwhelming. Many of them are fought at specific points in the game, and are impossible or extremely difficult to escape normally. Random ghosts pop up in some locations if you spend too long wandering aimlessly trying to find your next goal. Unlike some other horror games like Clock Tower and Haunting Ground, these random ghosts are useful to hoard some points for upgrading, and most of them are rather harmless once you figure out their patterns.

The game is separated into four different chapters. Each chapter is one night. These nights all have their own self contained stories, but these work to build up the overarching story about the rituals and people involved in the old ways. Each night also introduces new enemies and unlocks more of the mansion to explore. Some old areas will have new items and events in them as well, so there is some backtracking, but you are rewarded for it so it never feels like wasted time.

In my experience its rare for a horror game to really grab you by its story. Most seem to run on atmosphere, tension, quick scares, puzzles, or just good mechanics, but the story is usually lackluster. Fatal Frame has everything that a great horror title needs. There is a reason for the main characters Mafuyu and Miku to be in Himuro Mansion, they have a purpose! They’re not just dropped into this environment against their will and forced to deal with it. The story unfolds slowly but keeps you eager to move forward, and each night has a defined ending, with the next night starting Miku in a new or old room with more to discover and explore, and new ghosts to exorcise!

Psychotic Reviews: South Park: The Stick of Truth

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The Stick of Truth was probably one of the most anticipated RPGs of the year. Its based on the popular Comedy Central show known for its crude animation style, rude characters, profanity, and insightful satire. Matt Stone and Trey Parker are two of the best writers in the show business today, including their smash hit musical The Book of Mormon, South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, and the beloved classic BASEketball on their resumes its easy to see how the legions of South Park fans would flock to a game written by the show’s actual creators and lead writers.

The game was developed by Obsidian Entertainment, themselves known for being excellent writers and world designers. They also have a nasty reputation for releasing broken and buggy games. Is this true with The Stick of Truth? There are some bugs I experienced, but they didn’t really hinder gameplay. A few design decisions hurt the overall experience more than a graphics bug and the one crash I experienced.

The graphics bug involves alt-tabbing without pressing Escape first. It could lead to the characters bugging in and out of existence and was fixed by quitting the game and restarting. It was rather annoying, but didn’t completely break the game. The save design hurts the game more than anything. It seems to be a save anywhere type of system when it is really a checkpoint based system. So, saving right after a cutscene was usually fine, but saving halfway down the street would mean the reload would put you back at the beginning of the street.

The actual game itself is quite beautiful. The art makes it feel like you’re playing through a short season of different episodes. You play through different days, with all the kids having to go to bed once the sun goes down. These days are built around plot events, not the passage of real time, which flows well with the way the game is written. The world is open, but feels more like a side scroller since you can only cross streets at crosswalks. South Park is not a large town though, its always been referred to as a little mountain town somewhere in Colorado. Some areas seem to be left out, but every building has something to do in it. Well, except the bank. And you can probably figure out what happens there if you’re a fan of the show.

The game’s writing is spectacular, and the RPG design leaves even more room for references namely in gray junk items. Everything from Alabama Man to Space Cash is there to be found somewhere. The characters are just as they are on the show, with attacks based on their history. For example, Kyle has an Elemental Summon attack which is nothing more than Kick the Baby.

Or the most feared attack of all, Mr. Slave’s ass.

The timing attacks and defenses in battle will remind long time gamers of RPGs like Super Mario RPG, Mario & Luigi, Paper Mario, and some more real time battle systems like the Tales and Star Ocean series. Combat is rather easy though. I played on the hardest difficulty and still found myself rolling through the game by spamming armor lowering attacks. I played as Jew, so my main attack against bosses and defense heavy enemies was Circum-Scythe, it was quite satisfying to use that attack against enemies such Pedophile and Meth Head.

As a whole, The Stick of Truth is a very well done game. If you’re not a fan I would still recommend it as the writing is absolutely hilarious and vile at times. I found myself laughing hysterically at certain events, and smiling through most of the game as a fan. This game should go down in history as one of the best licensed games out there. Stiff competition in that category I know, but it really is that good and probably the best overall game in terms of technical issues, writing and story, and overall gameplay polish that Obsidian has released so far.

Psychotic Reviews: Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse

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I could consider my freshman year of high school the time in which I really blossomed socially. I lost over 70 pounds which swelled my confidence and lead to my first, real, fun girlfriend. It was also a time where it was easy to go to anybody’s house to play any of the 3 big systems of that time. Ah yes, I remember fondly my experiences with my own Playstation 2, and I had a few Xbox friends, and a couple of Gamecube friends.

One gaming experience that dates back to this time of my life is our game today. One of my football and wrestling teammates had this game for his Xbox and bought it when it was still fairly new. I was at his house when he opened the game and we both got to experience it for the first time with each other. Mainly because this game has split screen, hell yes! It does not make full use of the Xbox though and only allows 2 players at maximum. For my current playthrough I’m flying solo, I started on Normal difficulty but it was too easy for me, so I bumped it up to Tough (Hard).

This is one of the few examples of a game that is almost entirely unique and should be experienced by anybody looking to have a diverse gaming resume. About the only things that are not completely new and awesome in Stubbs is the literal Halo 1 ripoff driving, and loading screens. It says right on the box art that the game was built with the Halo engine. Stubbs changes the perspective from first person to third person, letting you watch our main zombie hero shuffle along his way. Stubbs does move fairly slow being a zombie and all, but compared to the zombie horde that he can control Stubbs has the ability to do a sort of sprint after shuffling in a direction long enough for a speed boost.


I can’t even complain about the loading screens.

This game’s title is no lie, this game takes the normal idea of the zombie game, that of being a survivor trying to escape having your brains munched on by the living dead, and instead lets you be the living dead and build zombie hordes by gorging on warm, delicious human brains. Stubbs also has quite a few nasty, gory, but effective weapons at his disposal. In the order that they are introduced to the player these weapons are Unholy Flatulence, Gut Grenades, Hand Possession, and Sputum Head. So you get an area of effect stun fart, a lethal grenade from Stubbs’ giant shotgun wound, the ability to control an enemy, and can use Stubbs’ head as an exploding bowling ball.


They may be undead, but they’re still Americans dammit!

For style and plot, as you can see from the clip above this game runs with tongue in cheek B-horror movie inspired parodies, along with witty writing and dialogue that you’ll hear coming from those pesky not undead people of the fine, futuristic city of Punchbowl, Pennsylvania circa 1959. Punchbowl is made in the style of those old 50’s “City of the Future” specials that are infamous for their insane optimism and wild technology speculation.


Like robots and Star Trek technobabble.

In terms of enemies in the game there is a wonderful variety. There are 6 basic enemy types, 5 of these types have 3-5 specific enemies. The unvaried enemy type is just the easy, usually unarmed, but still delicious common citizen. These enemy types are scattered intelligently throughout the game, so you are constantly adapting to new enemies not only at the beginning of a new level, but throughout the level, and later in the game as well.

For my current playthrough of the game I’m able to experience it through an official Xbox component box and through my TV’s component jack, and despite its age it looks fantastic in 1080i. The sound design is also stellar for this game. There is not much music that plays in the game outside of vehicles and areas where there are radios or TV screens in sight, or the mall. What really stands out is the quality of the sound effects, and since there is a general lack of music these needed to be high quality. The sound effects more than deliver, you’ll come to love some of the pleas of Punchbowl’s citizens and defenders while listening to Stubbs or one of the horde crunch down through a fresh skull and chew the softer, delicate brains.


Being asleep underground for so long leads to the most epic leak taking of all time.

Overall Stubbs is an incredibly well designed game and it is obvious to see why this game has become a cult classic, even if the game is quite short. If you have an Xbox still laying around you owe it to the system to hunt this game down and give it a nice playthrough. I got mine complete for $3 at one of my thrift stores, current online prices hover between $20 and $30 for the Xbox version. The PC and MAC versions are considerably cheaper, but the Xbox version is plentiful enough that you should hopefully not have too much trouble finding a copy for a decent price.

Psychotic Reviews: Nier

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There’s something about the RPGs of the 7th Generation of home consoles that really does not sit well with me. Considering all three of the major systems I can name the RPGs I’ve seen as truly breathtaking and majestic recreations of the wonder and amazement I felt as a child on one hand.

One hand.

Now keep in mind that I still have yet to play quite a few of the RPGs released in this generation as it comes to a close. Out of the ones I have played so far only three of them have really stood out above the rest as not only great games, but telling a great story on top of it; Valkyria Chronicles, Xenoblade, and The Last Story. The list gets longer if I’m counting games I played on PC, and I’m not.

One of my favorite wallpapers.

I’ve been a bit jaded yes, I admit it. Anyway, I’ve finally decided to sit down and play some of the games that I currently own but have yet to play, and I started with Nier. I feel like I’ve been missing out by not playing this game sooner.

Call it timing if you will, when I first started playing Nier and I got past the introduction and really started to play the game it just felt like everything I wanted in a modern RPG. The protagonist is not some naive, asexual, teenage, pretty boy swordsman. Nier is a middle aged father taking care of his daughter who has been sticken by a fatal illness with no known cure.

So right from the start Nier has swerved to avoid the overdone and burnt to a crisp coming of age tale, but it does not completely avoid cliches, just downplays them and does not make them the focus of the story, at least at first. The voice acting and direction is highly competent, Jamieson Price providing the English voice of Nier, and Liam O’Brien starring as Grimoire Weiss. The two make for quite a dynamic duo.

Grimoire Weiss unlocks magical abilities, which will be key!

The story is progressed through various events, sometimes you just have to talk to somebody. Each arc of the story is finished up by clearing a dungeon and defeating the boss. Nier really has a lot of gameplay systems, the combat is in real time and huge combos can be made as long as the player avoids taking damage and being knocked down. The companion AI is pretty dumb as well, its executed well in combat, but your allies don’t even run as fast as Nier so they’re always teleporting next to you and not moving until they teleport again.

Outside of the main story Nier has a lot of extras to dive deeply into, the first one the player is introduced to being the Quests that random villagers will want you to do for them. The quests are not overwhelming like they can be in Xenoblade, and a lot of them involve farming items, fetching, delivering, or finding somebody or something. But there are enough that involve humanity, its nature, and errors that just makes for great entertainment at times, and invokes empathy at others.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaass.

Interlaced with questing is fishing, which can be leveled up through a quest chain through an old man on the pier, and then done purely for profit. Fishing feels a bit awkward at first and took me some getting used to, but it really is simple. You watch your rod, ignore the nibbles, hit it on the big bite, and pull back and from side to side to reel it in. Nier has a terrible cast though, you end up catching huge sharks with the fishing line two feet off the pier.

At home Nier has more than just his little daughter to visit, after a couple early quests you will have a garden to tend to. Seeds are cheap to buy and even early yields can net Nier over 20,000 gold while only spending ~1,000 for seeds. All you have to do is water them at each stage of growth, even the fertilizer the game offers is totally optional.

One other way to spend your money in Nier is to level up your weapons at the little shack in the Junk Heap. You unlock this option after beating the second dungeon, and even get your first upgrade for free! There really aren’t many weapons in the game so you will have to upgrade them at some point, and spend time farming the materials for it as well.

You can upgrade your spells and weapons even further with magic words that you find in random boxes you break and from enemies you kill. The effects of these can be combined for a mix and match of effects. But, you can only have two words on any spell or weapon and there are only a few that are really useful in all situations.

Did you forget that Kaine has an ass?

Nier has its technical problems and those keep it just shy out of that Holy Trinity I mentioned at the top. The story is polished and different enough to keep me intrigued through a playthrough. The narrative flows in a competent manner with nice pacing. The voice acting is done by highly trained professionals with a long list of works. All in all, I would say that Square Enix did good publishing this game, if only they had actually marketed it or bribed some reviewers to get the aggregate scores fluffed up it may have sold well enough to localize Nier Replicant.

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