Ys Origin originally came out in 2006 but only in Japan, leaving poor suckers like myself who desperately wanted to play it in a language we could understand waiting for a fan translation. The fan translation finally materialized in September, 2011 but by that time there were already rumors that XSeed was getting ready to release it digitally so I decided against importing it like I done with some other Ys titles.
For those unfamiliar with the series–it is, afterall, a niche franchise beloved by gigantic nerds like me but unknown to everyone else–it’s a long running series of action RPGs with lots of remakes and ports and re-releases. Origin is the first of the games to break from telling the story of red-haired Adol having adventures all over the place and finding bits of the leftover Ys civilization while solving other, more urgent problems. Origin is not about the origins of Adol and his gang but rather the tale great civilization of Ys fell.
The gameplay in Origin is pretty similar to the titles since The Oath of Felghana. You hit things with weapons, you have some spell options and there are platforming and puzzle elements. There’s not really any level grinding required as long as you don’t just blow past enemies without bothering to defeat them, which I think of as a huge plus. Overall, Origin plays like your standard action RPG, but it is so competently made and charming that it overcomes the run-of-the-mill press-x-to-attack gameplay and enter the really fun zone. The Ys games have a formula that has been pretty much perfected and just own it completely.
The other thing Ys games always do well–and it’s an element of Origin that I enjoyed a whole lot–is giving you tough, interesting boss battles. In Origin once you are about a quarter way done with your long climb up the tower they suddenly become something like a SHMUP. The bosses have several attacks, shoot a whole lot of different stuff at you and require a tactical approach. It’s not R-Type Final, but here’s a video of the first boss that does this in the game:
I love it! There’s not a really a moment where you can just stand still (which in Ys means no healing!). It’s intense, and it’s fun. When I beat bosses in Origin I was very pleased with myself.
As it goes on the bosses become more and more like they were ripped out of a SHMUP. When you get to the final boss there is stuff all over the place and you are constantly running and reacting to whatever attack he’s queued up. The frenzied music works perfectly with what’s going on in the game. It’s just amazingly well put together.
If you don’t mind spoilers, or don’t think of a boss fight with no story context as one, here’s what that last battle looks like:
Ys: Origin is a niche game because of the market it inhabits, not its appeal to a wide audience. If you enjoy hitting monsters with weapons, sometimes setting creatures on fire and light puzzle fare then this is a game (and series) you’ll dig.
In 2012 Namco took pity on Tales fans in North America and released localized versions of both Tales of the Abyss (which was a re-release, but I don’t care) for the 3DS and Tales of Graces F for the Playstation 3. It’s an interesting contrast in games because while both of them feature fantastic battle systems, Abyss has a good coming of age story and Graces features a bunch of characters who are stuck in childhood and never grow at all during the course of the game.
The lead character in Abyss, Luke, is spoiled, self-centered and very sheltered. He is incredibly unlikable in the start, intentionally but a little over the top. He makes a really terrible mistake that in non-RPG land nobody would ever be able to make up for but luckily it’s a video game so he can go on a journey to redeem himself. It works because Luke is not instantly redeemed and he is earnest about growing up and working to make things right/better. The timeline is a accelerated but none of the other characters just go “Of course we love you, you silly town-destroying boy!”
Meanwhile in Graces the main character and his friends almost get the world destroyed because friendship is forever, even when you haven’t spoken to each other in 10 years and the friend in question has been possessed by an ancient evil and is killing people willy-nilly. The cutscenes are unbearable and the characters ridiculously shallow. Bland stories don’t bother me, you can just ignore them. Outright bad ones, however, really take away from my overall enjoyment of a game when I am constantly given story updates accompanied by horrific voice acting. It really is a shame because as I mentioned in my full write-up, Graces has the best battle system in the series to date.
I’d say that if you smooshed the battle system from Graces together with the story from Abyss you’d get an ultra-fantastic game but Abyss doesn’t really need any help to reach that level. It’s the best entry in the Tales series by a significant margin and getting to replay it right before getting my hands on Graces reinforced this for me.
I leave with with this trailer for Tales of Graces F with the hilariously misleading “Everyone Changed” tagline. Enjoy the voice acting.
Grasshopper Manufacturer has been playing around a lot with different genres in the last few years, with Sine Mora being their first SHMUP. A joint effort with the European studio Digital Reality it’s an okay game but not the extreme pewpew-fest I was hoping for. There are tons of annoying small breaks in the action to show off scenery; it seems the developers were very worried that players might miss how cool everything looks.
The boss battles are particularly disappointing as they are somewhat slow and you spend a lot of time not moving anywhere or thinking very hard. Here are some examples I grabbed using FRAPS:
Compare that to the first boss fight from random SHMUP Ether Vapor: Remaster that I bought cheap on Steam (you may also observe that I am not very good at the game):
Sine Mora got a lot of praise in reviews all over the place but I found it to be very pedestrian and not very challenging. Substituting time for shield or health is interesting but the main impact it had was to make me not bother to try and get out of the way of fire/ships/insect puke in the very few crowded levels since your time increases goes back up as you blow enemies away. There were also way too many ripped-out-of-Gradius environmental obstacle areas. It’s a pewpew game, I want to make things explode.
This is not a post about games that I think are bad–there’s only a few on the list that I don’t like–but after spending some time pointing out that Final Fantasy VII is not actually perfect to a friend I felt like I should get all my similar bitching out. A lot of these problems are minor problems, or not necessarily problems to other people but this is my perspective and there are certain things that drive me batty about games.
The way I assembled this list was to get submissions of favorite RPG titles from my twitter buddies. To keep it fair I included my two favorite games Suikoden II and Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne.
I’ve played every game on this list for a decent amount of time (except World of Warcraft which I just wanted to make a cheap joke about), several of them multiple times. I got a few submissions of titles I haven’t played or haven’t played very much of and left them off for obvious reasons.
Nota Bene: Lufia 2 was originally included in this list but I realized I don’t remember it well enough to comment accurately. I started replaying it but didn’t want to delay the post any longer.
Baldur’s Gate 2 – The first area really drags even if you are familiar with the characters. Working up the willpower to finish it up took a few tries for me.
Breath of Fire 2 – Probably the worst RPG localization during a period of bad RPG localizations.
Chrono Cross – If you love this game you know that it’s flawed and accept the problems, but I think the biggest problem is how it has too many characters and unlike the Suikoden series the structure around them doesn’t really work. They’re meant to be much more active but cycling nearly 50 characters across playthroughs is a headache.
Chrono Trigger – Suffers from the opposite of Grandia 2 syndrome where the overall story is quite interesting but the individual characters are boring.
Dragon Age: Origins - The Deep Roads/Orzammar area really drags out and the writing takes a dramatic dive in this area. The City Elf opening story is misguided.
Dragon Quest VIII – Pretty much every DQ game has the same problem which is that there are points in the game where you have to level grind. You can do this by either fighting ten million regular enemies or hunting for metal slimes but both of methods get really tiring.
Earthbound – The battle system is cute on the surface but the underlying mechanics are really crude so once you see all the funny battle text they’re pretty boring.
Final Fantasy (NES) - Level grinding up the wazoo, very tedious especially at the start. Extremely expensive to heal while you’re trying to level up enough to move on past the first area. Pretty typical of early RPGs. Is the reason Final Fantasy XIII exists.
Final Fantasy IV (SNES) – Terrible localization. I always feel like there are too many characters popping in and out when the story really only cares about a few of them.
Final Fantasy IX – Has all the problems you find in by-the-numbers RPGs even if the production values are higher. The biggest of these problems is that standard battles get very repetitive.
Final Fantasy VI – Kefka is just so goshdarn crazy! When you make a character over-the-top insane and he is just doing crazy crazy things he’s no longer scary or even really evil, he’s just nuts. It takes away from his actions and turns him into a cartoon. Also dualcast totally borks the game.
Kingdom Hearts & Kingdom Hearts 2 – Hit X butan, watch your partners with the world’s worst AI this side of Secret of Mana die repeatedly and take a nap while they yell each other’s names.
Knights of the Old Republic – If you actually do the side-quests they push you towards you hit the level cap way, way early. Mandatory racing mini-game. The freaking underwater area. I thought the big ole plot twist reveal was done in a pretty goofy way.
Morrowind – Extremely dull at the start, it was hard to find motivation to go on. Plus all the standard open world problems like getting lost or not knowing what exactly you’re supposed to do. Honestly Bethesda is very into meandering and I am not.
Ogre Battle – Not having direct control over units in tactical battles drives me bonkers. Couldn’t get into the Ogre Battle series at all though I’m a big fan of Tactics Ogre.
Paper Mario – Hard to level up at points where you need a little bump. I always find it very frustrating when you suddenly find yourself needing to level up to beat a boss in a game with not very much emphasis on that aspect of RPG design.
Persona 3 – Not being able to directly control your party members results in them doing dumb things that make you yell at the TV.
Persona 4 – Teddy’s voice acting is a war crime. The Persona 3 callback fanservice part is pretty eyerolley.
Pokemon Blue – Level grind grind grind grind. If you want to get 100% or make certain Pokemon useful past a certain point you were forced into to icky social contact.
Secret of Mana – What is the point of having partner characters if they die by being stupid when you need them alive the most?
Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne – To beat the true ending boss without tears and pain you have to be a mind-reader or lucky to set things up properly. You’ll hit points where you need to level grind quite a bit to move forward.
Shining Force (GEN) – Another game with a terrible localization. In this one it’s so bad that it ignores the major point of the game’s story.
Suikoden II – Luca Blight’s over-the-topness takes away from the impact of his character, the true ending is a bit of a cop-out like they were afraid to go through with the horrors of war thing to the end.
Super Mario RPG – Some of the platforming doesn’t work very well due to the isometric nature of the game. Wee I’m jumping to the next block!! Wait, nope, I guess I magically moved in the air and here I am at the bottom again.
The World Ends With You – With all the polish in this game they still managed to make the stylus input wonky, which leads to tears and pain during battles. As a bonus it has all your typical Square story points.
World of Warcraft – It’s an MMO.
Xenosaga – The total time you spend watching cutscenes is nearly as long as the time you spend playing the game.
I’m here today to talk about a very important thing that seems to have flown over the head of many people who write about video games for a living: Offense and critique are not the same thing. Pointing out problems about how certain things are dealt with in video games is not suppressing anyone’s free speech. Saying that maybe Crystal Dynamics could handle a girl going through some hellish scenario better if they took an approach other than Lara Croft: Moe Raider is not suppressing anyone’s expression. But that will apparently never stop people from screeching about how their rights about being trampled on.
Today’s edition of “I Can Say What I Want Because Free Speech America!!!” is brought to you by Colin Moriarty’s fantastically amazing opinion piece at IGN entitled “The Problem With Political Correctness in Video Games“. From that headline alone you know you are getting a treat, yes? The fact is that 9 out of 10 (and I may be underestimating here) times someone waves the “political correctness is evil” flag what they are really saying is that they don’t want to think about something critically. Moriarty’s piece is a shining example of this. It’s a lazy way to dismiss people and ideas that challenge your worldview.
I’m going to directly address the major problems I found in Moriarty’s piece. Everything in blockquotes is pulled straight from the piece and I am doing my best to not remove context.
It’s already happened with games such as Six Days in Fallujah and Tomb Raider. Should we succumb to the plight of political correctness and let it ruin the creativity of our industry like it’s corrupted so many other artistic avenues? Or should we stand up and say “anything goes” and encourage the creative minds that give us the games we love to push the envelope, social consequences be damned?
What other artistic avenues have been corrupted by political correctness? Moriarty gives no examples, probably because there are none if you actually think about it. If he thinks that movies and television are not pushing the envelope he is woefully out of touch with those mediums. In the last few years we’ve had movies like 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Antichrist and City of Life and Death to name a few. All of these films approach serious topics in very different manners and all of them were unafraid to push that envelope as far as possible. Are you going to tell me an industry that features and celebrates talents like Lars Von Trier, Terrence Malick and Michael Haneke has been corrupted and had their creativity ruined? Give me a break. And television has never pushed the envelope harder than it is right now with shows like Breaking Bad and Homeland.
Don’t get me wrong; you can be offended by anything you want. You can let other people’s words, deeds and art get to you however you deem fit. But the second you start confusing your own subjective notion of good taste with what that means for everyone else and project your own offended posture on the rest of us, you’ve crossed the line. When it comes to the game Smite and to the offense the Universal Society of Hinduism takes over the inclusion of Hindu gods in the game, we as a group of dedicated, money-spending enthusiasts should say “enough is enough.” If you don’t like it, don’t consume it. But don’t tell others that they can’t, and don’t ridicule the creators of something because their vision doesn’t fit your own. A trend such as this could very well obliterate developers giving us fresh stories and experiences in gaming moving forward.
This is extremely hypocritical. Moriarty can tell us what to think (“If you don’t like it, don’t consume it”) but we cannot critique anything (“don’t ridicule the creators”). I’m sorry but I think that Hindu people have every right to take offense to their pantheon being exploited (sexy big booby Kali woo!) and complain about it. And since when is a complaint the same as ridicule anyway now that I think about it? And how exactly is sexy Kali a “fresh story”? Oh man, sexy ladies and buff dudes in video games what a fantastic idea never seen that one before. Using pantheons of gods in a game is not a new trope either unless you’ve wiped out the entire MegaTen universe and didn’t tell me.
The recent episode over Tomb Raider illustrates this point rather vividly. Developer Crystal Dynamics dared to allude to sexual assault in protagonist Lara Croft’s story, something deemed over-the-top and inappropriate in gaming by some commentators. This even coerced one of the game’s producers to backtrack on earlier comments, stating that the game has no undertones of sexual assault even though it clearly does. But why should someone feel bad about including something like this in a game? Have you ever seen an episode of Law & Order: SVU? How about the movie The Accused? Why are games held to an entirely different – and completely hypocritical and unfair – standard?
Well maybe if Tomb Raider were addressing the issue like The Accused did people would not have been angry. I mean when the game’s producers comments are “We want you to feel like you have to protect her?” that just shows they are going down the wrong path. I am not even sure how you could bring up The Accused as any kind of comparison here unless the game is actually about Lara Croft fighting the justice system that is stacked against her due to her reputation as a slut.
Before the game producers opened their mouths I had really hoped that it was going to take it seriously and maturely and defended it. I have seen a lot of bad exploitation movies that treat rape as a titillating topic and I didn’t see it in the trailer. When the producers opened their mouths and started talking about Lara Croft–who has been established in other games as a smart, extremely strong lady–as Yet Another Moe Character is ridiculous. How about you treat her like any other character in a game, you are playing as her you should relate to her. You are directly controlling Croft in the game, you are not putting bread crumbs down the NO RAPE HERE path and hoping she follows them.
If you can find a large number of mainstream game that handle sexual violence and the issues that surround it in the same manner of a movie like The Accused or The Virgin Spring you can talk about how games are held to a higher standard.
I could write you a 10,000-word essay on the things that offend me and the issues that are personal. For instance, my father is a now-retired FDNY firefighter. Obviously, as the son of a New York City firefighter, 9/11 hit very close to home for me and my family. We knew a lot of people that died and it instilled something in us that’s indescribable. But when United 93 was released, I didn’t boycott the movie. When people want to rail on and on about conspiracy theories concerning what happened that day, I let them have at it. When some people said that we deserved what happened to us, I profoundly disagree. But I would never, ever tell them that I’m so outright offended by all of this that they should stop and that no one else should hear them out.
This is such a weird paragraph. United 93 is by all accounts a thoughtful and tasteful look at the events that happened on the flight. How on Earth can you equate it to 9/11 truthers? Have you ever thought that if the video game industry handled subjects the same way United 93 handles itself that people wouldn’t have to point out the things it’s doing wrong so often? I mean really if you’re going to complain about any movie dealing with 9/11 it should be Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center. And you know what? People did.
When are we going to acknowledge that this mentality is destructive? When are we going to come to terms with the fact that by strangling creativity because of abstract notions of being offended and hurt feelings, we are doing a major disservice not only to ourselves, but to the people who want to give us new stories full of new ideas? By refusing to address this problem, we are stripping gaming of its ability to be ingenious. We’re telling game creators not to challenge us, not to make us think, not to make us uncomfortable. But I say to game developers, make me think. Challenge me. Make me uncomfortable.
On the contrary when we don’t challenge, think about and critique what game creators give us we are telling them that we don’t want them to rock the boat. Including sexual assault in a game is not rocking the boat just because sexual assault is a terrible thing. Something being uncomfortable does not mean it’s automatically challenging. It can simply mean that it’s morally repugnant. The infamous rape scene in Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs or the entirety of the first half of I Spit On Your Grave are both very uncomfortable. But they are not uncomfortable because they are challenging the viewer, they are uncomfortable because they are making terrible acts something to ogle at.
I love video games, and I have played and for the most part liked some video games that have stuff in them that turns my stomach (such as the weird transformation scenes in Ar Tonelico 3). It is because I respect the medium and want to see it grow that I challenge and critique the content in the games that I play. I am somewhat appalled that a member of the media covering video games doesn’t want to challenge things in it and then complains that they’re treated different from movies. That he doesn’t understand the difference between people taking offense and demanding censorship and people pointing out problems. If you want video games to be taken seriously you must treat them like they are serious. That doesn’t mean defending big boobied Kali against detractors, that means examining and challenging stereotypes and topics and encouraging developers to do the same.
I’ve had a busy, busy last few weeks and fallen behind on Dragon’s Dogma (which I was really enjoying) but I decided to sit down and finish up/play through some of the indie titles that I’d purchased from Steam.
The Baconing - The third DeathSpank game, this time with no Ron Gilbert involvement and it shows. It’s an okay game but falls kind of flat. It feels like it was written by a Gilbert fan who was trying way too hard and though the core gameplay is the same as DeathSpank 1 and 2 they ramped up the difficulty to a pretty absurd degree. Worth a pickup on sale if you like action RPGs and don’t mind dying a lot.
Time Spent: Steam says 8.6 hours and that sounds about right accounting for pausing and bathroom breaks.
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Costume Quest – Adorable short RPG from Tim Schafer and his team at Double Fine. A mean witch has kidnapped your brother (or sister if you play as the boy) on Halloween and you have to get him back. You collect candy, battle bad guys and put together costumes with new powers along the way. The battle system is simple as can be, you either attack or have a special move that depends on the costume you’re wearing (they can buff, heal or do extra damage). You can (should) also trade in your candy for battle stickers that you can equip your party with, they give your trick-or-treating pals extra boosts in battle (regeneration, do poison damage, etc).
Although Costume Quest is at face value an RPG like an adventure game the thing that keeps you chugging through is a fun story you want to see through to the end. It’s full of pop-culture references that are executed well and the designs are charming. The price is a little steep at $15 but you are paying for the production values and it’s worth it.
Time Spent: About 5 hours to get everything in the normal game, have not done the (free!) DLC yet.
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Sequence – A rhythm action game I grabbed for something like $2.50 during one of the big Steam sales. This game is definitely worth the $5 it normally goes for but is flawed. First, it’s very repetitive because the way the game is structured you fight a small number of enemies over and over for materials to craft items. Second, you will want to set the game’s main characters on fire because they are really smarmy.
The battle system is the core of the game and works like this: Each enemy has a song attached to him which plays during the battle and sets the time limit. During the fight you flip between three boards while fighting enemies big and small hitting notes to the rhythm of the music. One board recharges mana, one board is where notes for the spells you cast show up and one is the enemy’s board where you hit notes to avoid damage. It works pretty well, but like I said fighting the enemies over and over to get drops and level up is very grindy and makes it nigh impossible to play for long periods at one time.
Time Spent: 15 hours, this is bloated by a few long pause and wander out of the rooms and having to start the game over after a bug. I’m currently attempting to get the true ending, I would guess it really tops out at more like 10 hours if you want all the spells/achievements/etc.