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Spooky Plays: D

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Welcome back to a world of horror and fright. You may remember last year when I did a review of a game that not many would think of when pondering the options to step into a good atmosphere that sends chills down spines and squeals up throats. Thief: The Dark Project was that game, and the horror came from the masterpiece’s years spent in development hell when its focus was changed about a half dozen times. Well, if you want to read more about that game check it out right here: https://whydidiplaythis.wordpress.com/2014/01/02/unexpectedly-spooky-thief-the-dark-project/ . In contrast to a jumbled mess of juxtaposed design and experimentation that somehow worked brilliantly, this year I bring you D. Just D. The letter D. No more. No less. D.

D is a horror puzzle game developed by WARP and published by Acclaim. It was originally created and released on the 3DO, but given the system’s less than stellar sales records, the game was ported over to Sega’s Saturn and Sony’s Playstation, as well as DOS in the Western markets. In Japan, the Saturn release was a smash hit, debuting at the top of the sales chart. Acclaim insisted on porting it over to the other consoles themselves, and localizing it for the international market. The Saturn port was also successful on the sales charts in the West despite that console’s lukewarm reception. Sadly, Sony did not manufacture enough copies to even dream of satisfing pre-order demands for the Playstation release, and few more were ever produced. This leads to the oddity of the Saturn version being the easiest to find in the US. There’s not too much difference in price between the two though, Saturn averages out to be cheaper. The 3DO version stands up as the hardest to find and most expensive release. I blame this on the fact that searching for just “D” leads to so many other results that its annoying to find this specific game for any of its systems.

The game’s development is a wonderful tale in and of itself, with Kenji Eno going to extreme lengths to keep the real story of the game hidden, even from his coworkers, in an attempt to sort of cheat his way into a publishing deal. He made the game appear more like it was a clean cut adventure game with high quality graphics, not unlike Myst before it. Since Kenji Eno personally visited manufacturers in the USA to switch out his clean version from the real version he also bypassed any possibility of censorship.

Even today the horror imagery and well detailed (for the time) art design and environments stand out among its peers in the genre. Where Resident Evil would release after this game and rely on bad voice acting and jump scares, D does an excellent job of instilling a creepy atmosphere around the player and the young woman you control, WARP’s digital actress Laura Harris.

One interesting way that this atmosphere was achieved is a design choice that forces the player to sit and play the game. There is no saving or pausing. You have two hours of real time to finish the game from start to ending. That may seem like a short time, but I ended up being about ten minutes shy of beating it when I first played it. The second time was the charm for me.

One of the reasons you might get stopped and take a bit longer to finish the game is the puzzle design. Its quite reminiscent of point and click adventure games, but given its short length, most of these puzzles lack the depth or insane difficulty of some PC adventure games that are similar to D’s presentation. The exploration and movement works well for being limited to a controller. The odd part about the game’s movement design is that some rooms have paths that go all over the place. One example of this is in one of the bedrooms. You’ll step inside and be looking at a painting, and you can only walk towards this painting at first. Later you’ll need to get into a table to the right of the painting, but to get to the table from the painting you have to turn left, walk to the other door, then turn and step to the bed, turn to the left again, and then step forward to the table. You can’t just turn right when you’re already standing next to the table.

The game certainly feels aged though. Compared to other horror games its quite tame. As you play you’ll find the atmosphere is where the real tension is, and there are some creepy images and unexplained phenomena throughout this mansion Laura finds herself in. The occasional dessicated corpse catches her by surprise, and a wall of spikes early in the game might be only real jump scares in the game, but none of them are harmful. This game did influence later titles when it comes to presentation though. D’s unexpected success in all markets is simultaneously a beginning and an ending, as slower FMV puzzle games were nearing their twilight. D’s future influence lies in its tight artistic designs, well produced visuals, and its use of sound to create a setting and experience that will stick to the player. Its length actually helps it in this case. Since the game is so short everything that happens gets stuck in your mind, and you’ll rarely find yourself scratching your chin trying to remember something like you might with a long winded RPG or even other horror games!

If you have about $20-40 burning up your pocket or paypal balance, and you want a good, creepy experience that doesn’t require a long term commitment, then D is a fantastic purchase.

Psychotic Reviews: Gungrave

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Gungrave is a high octane third person shooter that is heavy on style. It was developed by Red Entertainment and published by themselves in Japan, Sega in North America, and Activision in Europe. The game is heavy on style, looking completely awesome and giving setpieces that feel right at home in what is a nearly mindless action game.

The Gungrave series was created by Yasuhiro Nightow. He might not sound too familiar to the video game crowd, but the anime fans will instantly recognize his style from his popular creation Trigun. I love Trigun, and its one of the reasons I’ve been tracking this game down for years despite mediocre reviews.

Graphically, the game resembles anime. The characters are cel-shaded and the animation is quite fluid. This is a result of Nightow’s experience as an animator. The cutscenes are fluid and in most cases, action packed. All of these scenes tell a story of a drug dealing Syndicate, which the main character is on the warpath against because of a thirst for vengeance.

The gameplay is a bit flawed, and some parts of the game feel almost broken. Technical issues really hurt the overall experience and could have turned this game into a stylish classic in the vein of Killer7 or XIII. There is an unforgivably high amount of slowdown in the game. When there are a lot of enemies on screen with projectiles then the game can grind to a standstill. There’s not this much slowdown in freaking Gradius III!

Despite all the slowdown the game is still quite short. I managed to beat it in less than 2.5 hours. That’s not a typo. The game has unlockables which you can earn through multiple playthroughs, and the story might make a little bit more sense, but that it is the extent of the game and its story. The extras are actually cool to look through. The enemies in the game are collected and shown off like action figures, still in their original packaging and everything! On higher difficulties you can unlock concept art and just more stuff to mess around with in the game.

This game could have been much more, with some polish it could have been more fun to play. The animations were quite enjoyable, highly detailed and quite fluid. For the most part they were quite short, leaving a bit more to be desired. The ending was rather underwhelming as well. It was a cliche save the girl and ride a motorcycle into the sunset ending. I’m not even trying to crack a joke here.

All in all this game is still rather interesting, with a nice premise behind the story. The gameplay was underwhelming, but the style was certainly there and was presented in a satisfactory way. The story is a bit cryptic at first, but there is a sequel, and anime, that came out after Gungrave. While the game is short at least it is mostly sweet, and doesn’t drag on and on like Dirge of Cerberus.

Psychotic Reviews: Ni no Kuni

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I am unsure if Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is the RPG I would use to introduce the genre to a child or not. I was planning on showing my eventual offspring the classics first, maybe start with some Dragon Quest and lead into some SNES Squaresoft. I am still leaning towards Ni no Kuni as a launchpad as it throws Dragon Quest, Monster Rancher, Pokemon, and My Neighbor Totoro in a blender and just lets it all puree for hours. Glorious hours. Level-5 and Studio Ghibli have crafted a beautiful world with wonderful characters that show a child’s journey from the worst circumstances you could imagine into a strong and independent leader.

Oliver is a resident of the post-war Americana inspired peaceful town of Motorville. Early on in the game Oliver’s mother dies, saving her son from drowning after he test drives his friend Phillip’s hand made car. He holds onto a stuffed animal that his mother made for him and begins to cry on it. When his tears hit the stuffed doll Studio Ghibli happens and the stuffed animal is granted life, becoming Lord High Lord of the Fairies Drippy. Drippy gives a bunch of information to Oliver about another world where people’s hearts are connected. If somebody exists in Motorville, they will exist in this world, so his mother could still be alive there!

Not long into the adventure in this new world Oliver is granted the spell to create a familiar from the power of his heart. Oliver creates the Milites Mitey Mite. You as the player have the ability to feed and grow your familiars as you see fit, and get the ability to catch your own once Esthar is recruited into the party later. Swaine has the ability to steal items and cause status ailments with his gun. Marcassin is recruited late in the game and is another powerful spellcaster to add to the mix of Oliver and Esthar.


That’s a tidy pose, ent’it?

You’ll really get your power from familiars, as they can take up roles that just don’t fit your main characters. Early on Mitey is a pretty good tank and does decent damage, but attacks slowly. Mitey is not very useful after the halfway point, his stats start to flatten. There will be plenty of options for a replacement though, assuming you’ve been singing to catchable familiars with Esthar! This is a Level-5 game, so expect item alchemy as well.

Combat itself is fairly straightforward, attack, use skills and magic, and you can stagger your enemies and cancel their attacks with proper timing. Familiars with fast attack speed are better at staggering and canceling than slow attackers like Mitey. Staggering can lead to a possible golden glim, which gives the familiar a form of super ability. It could be an offensive ability, healing, or a buff. The combat is turn based, so the feel of attacking and the experience gains give the feeling of Dragon Quest influence.

The music is fantastic, being composed by Studio Ghibli veteran Joe Hisaishi and Rei Kendoh. All the music was performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. The music was first compressed so it could fit on a DS cart, a 4 gig cart though. The PS3 soundtrack is the full orchestral performance.

The world really feels like an old school RPG world though. For every kingdom or large landmass there only seems to be one town to visit. There you stock up on items, move the story forward, run errands for people for items and money, and take monster bounties. For the most part of the game I found the errands and bounties to be the best way to stock up on money, as monsters just didn’t seem to drop enough. It really felt more balanced around the fact that you do run all the errands while playing through the game.

This really slows down the midgame, as you end up devoting entire play sessions, multiple hours each time, to simply running errands and taking out bounties. Otherwise you can’t afford new weapons and armor and lag even further behind! Eventually the errands start to bottleneck as you’re running out of new pieces of heart to take and give to other people, so it doesn’t take long towards the endgame.

The game quickens pace towards the end and leads straight to the final showdown with the White Witch. After completing the game the player has the option of creating a cleared save file and returning to the world to complete more errands, bounties. You can also do some more side quests like win stuff at the casino, finish the Solosseum, and make all the hidden and powerful alchemy recipes. As sweet and magical as this game is, this post game content might just be hard to resist.

I would give a strong recommendation to this game for anybody that is an RPG fan and has been looking for a classic styled game that is just modern enough, challenging, and tells a strong enough story to keep you hooked. The characters in this game are not the same tired clichs that have been running rampant in the genre for the past decade, so their performances and development should leave you satisfied.

HOW SONY AND MICROSOFT CAN CUT THEIR OWN THROATS

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To put this in the simplest of terms, the way the title of this article can happen is if either or both of these hardware manufacturers do one thing, charge the gaming public to activate used games. The news releases of EA ending their online pass program is just the first reason why trying to extort extra money just for buying a game that’s already been played will not work. For those of you that have not yet read about EA ending a much maligned policy of theirs their reasoning is as follows “Many players didn’t respond to the format. We’ve listened to the feedback and decided to do away with it moving forward.” This translates from business speak to layman’s English as ‘We were not making a profit.’

Take heed Sony and/or Microsoft. If the 2nd largest 3rd party publisher has already tried and abandoned the tactics that you may well be on the cusp of unveiling to the public then your system is doomed from the start. It is one thing to have individual games lock content up behind a pay wall, but an entire system? The incredible poostorm that has surrounded EA and other companies using online passes to access their multiplayer components after a copy has moved from the ‘new’ to ‘used’ bin will be incredibly miniscule compared to having a paywall thrown up blocking me and other gamers from playing a single player game, let alone multiplayer.

200px-CMOT_Dibbler
Please be smarter than the Discworld Dibblers.

I know I’m only one person and this is anecdotal evidence but I spend almost 90% of my purchasing power on used games and almost never buy a game at launch. When I do it is something I have eagerly been waiting for months to come out and hone in on my targets with the precision of a falcon. I do not pre-order something if I have any shred of doubt that the game might not be good, hence I tend to stick with only a few series which see sporadic releases. Most of the used games I buy are in the $5-10 region and I’m perfectly fine waiting 1 or 2 years for the price to get there. So if either Sony or MS want to charge me an extra $5 to activate a used game and essentially double my investment, they will lose 100% of my business.

No hardware, no pre-orders, no software, no collector’s editions, no used games, nothing, nada, zilch.

I will say this once, do not forget it. Your customers are your backbone, defy them and you lose them. Your publishers are greedy snobs, listen to them and you defy your consumers. If these rumors end up being confirmed I will happily go out and buy a brand new Wii U and 4-5 brand new games just to support more level headed and less obvious cash grabby, greedy business tactics. I don’t care how weak the hardware is compared to the PS4 or possible NextBox specs, and I know Nintendo is far from perfect. That said, they will have 100% of my gaming budget if Sony and/or Microsoft is really this stupid.

ready asshole

Now here’s another scenario, only one of the two unlaunched systems will have a used game activation fee and ‘feature’. Given how close the sales are between 360 and PS3, this is just asking to get completely reamed in the backside through marketing techniques. What was once a close race turns into a landslide victory. I can see it now, “No fees just to play,” “We don’t charge a disc insertion fee,” etc. etc. Millions of potential system sales are at stake here, and those millions of systems can support hundreds of millions of software sales. We’re talking billions and billions of dollars at stake here, trillions of yen, you will not Cut-Your-Own-Throat will you?

System Splash Screens: Judging a Console by its Cover

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For many systems you fire up the first experience you have with it involves the splash screen, intro screen, logos, sound effects, rocket ships, flying carpets, and belly dancers. Like many things the quality and effort put into these introductions can have a profound impact on the player, or potential player, of a video game console, so let’s take a look at the good and the bad ones.

The Bad

Now, in order to be fair I will not include systems which completely lack a splash screen, this is only something that came to prominence in the late 80’s for the most part (with exceptions of course). So, which ones just leave you screaming for mercy?

Amiga CD32

Well, that was pretty dull. If you’re looking for uninspired intro screens nothing really beats this one, its a CD floating in space with a wordart logo above the disc with some flashy colors flying around. This looks like a $50 job that some video editing student did after discovering how awesome the Amiga is and how amazing a system based on Amiga software with CD support would be.

It would be a commercial failure of course.

FM Towns Marty

Well, my ears are bleeding now. For a CD based system the FM Towns Marty certainly has incredibly weak sound capabilities! It even released in 1993, the same year as the vastly superior 3DO Interactive Multiplayer and even the Amiga CD32 above, at least that one didn’t have digital garbage flowing out of the speakers!

Atari Jaguar

The Jaguar just has this look, reputation, and history of being a low budget machine with shoddy engineering. It was Atari’s last attempt at greatness (and killing off their fairly popular line of PCs to throw everything at the console probably did not help matters). Now to be fair this one isn’t entirely bad, its just a bit boring. A spinning cube with a Jaguar on it is hardly menacing. But, if they had done something like the MGM lion intro it would probably have been the greatest thing ever made by Atari or any company ever! The legitimacy of the menacing roar of the Jaguar is lessened by the rather cartoony, and already by then retro, little jingle that accompanies the cat.

The Good

Sega CD

What happens when a system has not just one amazing startup screen, but two? We end up with the Sega CD! Or Mega CD if you’re not a winning American. Oh, I’m not really counting the JVC X’eye, even though that intro is fairly enjoyable as well.

All I really have to say is one thing, I have never before been so entertained by dancing logos. This just shows how superior Sega’s execution was in the early 90’s, having some of the best hardware creators this side of Nintendo. Sega can just squeeze so much life out of hardware that could be considered inferior, giving their consoles so much passion and soul that no company has really ever been able to duplicate, not even Nintendo or Sony in my opinion.

Nintendo Gamecube

Nintendo, I love you to death. What cheeky bastards these guys were when designing the Gamecube and its startup screen. Everybody loves Easter Eggs, so let’s hide not one, but two colorful eggs on the very first screen you see when playing a Gamecube, all of which are enjoyable in moderation. Absolutely brilliant!

Sony Playstation

There are few words to describe just how amazing the experience of firing up an original Playstation is. Once you turn it on its like you, the gamer, are being sent into a powerful wind tunnel during astronaut training. Then you finally get to launch up into space just as the PS logo comes up and leave the atmosphere into cool, serene calm. An absolute joy for the ears, this is the THX intro of the video game world, and it will never get old.

So what are your favorite system start up screens, least favorites?

Video Game Confessionals: Chrono Cross Part 2

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WARNING: THIS SERIES WILL CONTAIN COPIOUS AMOUNTS OF SPOILERS. THIS WILL BE AT THE TOP OF EVERY ENTRY IN VIDEO GAME CONFESSIONALS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Serge and Kid steamroll their way through the Fossil Valley, meeting Solt and Peppor once again. These guys aren’t even funny. They’re just stupid henchmen. Think of the dumbest henchmen you could imagine and make them even more incompetent. We might be getting close to Solt and Peppor. Adonis in Disgaea was a more effective recurring boss, at least he is enjoyable and fits the mood of the game. They’re easily dispatched using the best battle strategy so far, mash attack and keep doing it, never stop once except to maybe heal.

Once in Termina the group of two explore, find some random guy polishing the statue of the current leader. The only statue we can even find. Huh. Serge and Kid keep trying to find their way around the city, eventually running into some stairs off to the West of the entrance and finding some people mentioning Nikki. You should have heard a little bit about him all the way back before the time/universe warp jump event. Whatever it was that happened.

There’s this dancer Miki that should walk inside after talking to the one random man in this room. It looks like a changing room, or close to it with the other two dancer girls in here. Miki, another person the player should have heard about by now, walks in talking about getting into the Shadow Forest because Nikki went there. There’s a random NPC that mentions this big tree where rare mushrooms can grow, then a secret entrance into the Viper Manor.

Whoa whoa whoa keep it in your pants.

Basically, the writing here is pretty solid. There’s plenty of information going around that goes back to after the waking and before the jump. Just like Breath of Fire; again I’m mentioning this series, which started 2 years before Chrono Trigger released, a few lines can be found referencing both sides of the world.

Anyway, in the Shadow Forest we find Nikki on the 2nd screen. Well that is quite anticlimactic.  That’s like finding the holy grail after wiping your feet on the rug. He claims to be singing to some monster, you’re behind him so he really doesn’t know you’re there. THIS IS A GUNS N’ ROSES RIP OFF. Sweet sister of mine? That’s one word from a lawsuit. Given Axl Rose’s history he probably would have eagerly jumped on the opportunity to sue what was the most influential RPG developer and publisher in existence at this time.

Of course attacking a monster with a rock frontman voice does nothing, they’re already dancing in their own, strange way that our puny human minds cannot understand. There’s another mystery in this area, the green jelly things in the area that shock the crap out of Link. On the next screen we find Nikki once more and he ends up being cornered by a group of Dragoons. Of course you save him, the game wouldn’t progress if you didn’t. Then he takes a shower and you’re off once again.

You can only follow this path that he just took. Nikki wears lipstick. This is supposed to be a man, and he makes Robert Plant look like Attila the Hun. Anyway he finally joins and we can get past this giant, sleeping, carnivorous dandelion by taking one of the berries from the big Pokemon Gold and Silver berry plants and luring one of the big green jellies out to the giant dandelion. I managed to get Nikki to smash his guitar over this evil plant’s head for the final strike of the battle. It was exactly how I would want a The Who concert to end.

Nikki’s long lost cousin.

So, we get to meet our favorite friends Solt and Peppor once again. What am I like 2 hours in and this is our 3rd fight? Was Squaresoft already becoming this devoid of ideas for bosses? Even Zoah, the real boss here acknowledges their horrible attempts at comedy, yelling at them in ALL CAPS TO GET THE POINT ACROSS. Tweedle Dumb and Dumber go down in two attacks, they’re pretty much worthless and only serve as a continued tutorial for Elements in case you haven’t already figured this incredibly difficult and confusing mechanic out yet.

I wasn’t paying attention and Zoah knocked Nikki out. Serge landed a pretty sexy crit to put Zoah in his place and insert his own blue haired self as the dominant male in the forest today.

Gaming Dramatic Read 2: Rampage World Tour

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This is a series where I read the story and sometimes the character section of the manual of some random video game, in a dramatic fashion. The main goal is to bring attention to how good or bad some of the manual stories can be, and also how well they can prepare a player for a game.

Of course sometimes the dramatization ends up being completely uncalled for, and that’s where the real fun begins.

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