Search This Blog

What is your current/max resolution?

Comments not personal enough? E-mail me with requests, suggestions or personal comments. No, it's not fake....

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Eternal Poison - Review

I was going to review Outlaw Star, but considering how recent this game is, I decided to put that on hold and refer to newer topics on hand.

After playing it for like... a few days straight (with nothing else to do around the house... Wish i didn't leave my memory cards nor bring all my stuff to the dorm), I'm ready. It may seem like a short while but I have it down pretty well and I've seen enough to grasp what kind of game this is.

Eternal Poison was originally known as Poison Pink in Japan. It's a strategy RPG developed by Flight Plan and published by Atlus or Banpresto depending on the regional version. I'm not sure where Namco-Bandai come into this, maybe they helped out in publishing (I'll get into that later) but their label's present as well.

Explaining the story may prove to be a bit difficult, but here I go. Eternal Poison is about a door to an alternate homeworld of demon-like creatures known as Majin that appears in Alea (which if you look at the map, looks kinda like an old sketch of southern Europe. I can even find Italy for you). Within Alea are multiple kingdoms, the two most significant being Stag and Valdia. Each with a heavy influence from their churches, the door to the alternate realm, known as Besek, is considered to either grant your wishes or contain immense power. During this time, Olifen, commander of the Valdian Knights, was betrothed to the princess when she suddenly disappeared. At the same time, a girl known as Thage (pronounced Tay-ge) enters the world with a wolf-like Majin companion, Ranunculus, whose goal is to capture every demon and create an encyclopedia (in a gothic fairy tale-like sense, meaning it involves some ancient capturing method involving a magic book and black frilly clothes).

Eternal Poison is broken down into multiple stories focusing on different main characters. In each story, they all enter Besek for one reason or another. In this way, the stories interweave with each other at points. Also, Besek, while overall linearly formed, has multiple stratum with multiple paths and intertwining paths. Each path also triggers different cut scenes and dialogue giving it some nice replay value.

The art style is very defined and helps define it from other strategy RPGs published by Atlus. The opening cutscenes are extremely beautiful and display the amount of skilled works that's possible. In addition, the ingame cut scenes have a distinct art style to them that's very appealing. It's certainly something unique. Nearly every character is unique. There are similarities between the clothing of those who are part of the same church and siblings, but that's to be expected. Everyone looks different from one another which is really nicely done. Even minor characters look different from everyone else, which makes the world seem much bigger than it really is. There's some nice detailing done in this aspect. In this aspect, it also makes each story very unique. Each main character, along with their companions all are very special and can go through a class change. Overall, EVERY character you play has basically their own move set and stat builds which really put you as a tactician on the edge of your seat.

The battle system is like that of other tactics RPGs. Turns are taken based on speed stats and attacks are categorized into an array of different properties. 10 to be exact. The max number of player characters you may have on a map is 7. Fewer if some Majin take up two character slots (I'll get into that later). The defining feature that separate this from others is the demon capture element. Most Majin have an overkill HP that must be fulfilled in one hit which ends up "binding" them. (For those who don't understand the concept) Overkilling an enemy refers to dealing damage past their remaining HP. I believe Final Fantasy X had some feature of Overkilling, where if you dealt a certain percentage of damage past the remaining HP, you get a happy Overkill symbol. Generally, it's recommended that you overkill and capture every Majin (first for later reasons and second) because you get more money selling capture Majin than you do in normal killing. This isn't that amazing of a feat. This is actually a very straight forward battle system. There aren't any random number generators that change up damage nor any luck stat. If you hit someone from behind, it's basically just simple algebra in comparing your attack power vs. the enemy's defense stat (or magic defense, depending on attack) and applying modifiers (if it's weak or strong to certain types. P.S. Modifiers go first, THEN stat comparisons are applied).

These captured Majin then can be handled and mistreated in a number of ways. First, you can "scribe" them onto your spell book, allowing you to summon them in battle (assuming you have enough slots available). You can also sell them to make money and help increase the shop's inventory (apparently, if you sell a certain number of specific Majin, you create items that you can buy. I'm being vague here because as to HOW that happens, I don't know. I just know that if I sell two Caprus Majin, the shop gets a specific spear that I need for a character). You can also grind Majin down in a giant cauldron which leads to one of two results. Either, you grind them to extract a skill which you can then place onto slotted items, or grind them for PP (Poison Points, Poison Pink, Pink points, "power points...."?) which are used to summon Majin.

You can also buy Majin (which I'm still trying to figure out the conditions for) and use them for scribing or.... grinding. You COULD sell them again, but that kind of defeats the purpose of getting them in the first place. Well, unless you REALLY need another copy of an item.

The story is pretty immense. With 6 total stories and multiple endings, this game has a lot of replay value. That and the New Game+ feature.

And now for the stuff that irks me.
First of all, each attack has a cutscene which has its own loading screen. Rather, when you initiate an attack, the screen whites out and you hear the grinding of your CD as it loads up a battle sequence of your attack. It's fine AT FIRST, but it soon gets annoying with how slow attacks are made. Spells help loosen the annoyance due to how fast casting and execution are but the drawing of the bow, the need to run to the target is all so slow. It's actually really interesting how there's an operatic voice that introduces the Majin by its name the first time you see it in battle and honestly, I didn't get tired of that. I can see how they thought it might change up the monotony of grid-to-grid fighting but this is purely a programming issue in that the map and it's characters should have probably been pre-cached for faster animations. I honestly wouldn't have minding a longer loading screen for pre-battle preparations if the screen didn't white out for 10-15 seconds before every attack. And it's not like the PS2 is LACKING in system RAM. I remember being able to play a free run of a map on Tony Hawk's Pro Skater (whatever) and replaying it with the entire soundtrack AFTER removing the DVD-ROM from the system. It's just bad insight.

Speaking of the in-battle cut scenes. Despite how beautiful the 3D cutscenes were at the beginning, a lot of the in-battle models look extremely awkward. Many characters (Humans and Majin alike) seem to be missing key joints that would help make movement look more fluid. It seriously looks like someone's playing with action figures and then making a movie out of it. Some have this ridiculous straight back, rigid, contrapostto stance that I don't think was intended.

It also feels like Flight Plan half-assed the cutscenes. The story itself has a lot of potential and opening cutscenes show promise of how amazing the game could be but every one except for the ending goes on the typical background + half body image with emotional expressions, visual novel style cut scenes. And it's worse than those visual novel games because at least in those, they explain movements in detail... like a novel. Here, you just once again have to assume movements. Normally, this doesn't bother me, but with a story that's supposed to be taken seriously, it's kind of hard to imagine what's happening. I could be worse though. It could be Fire Emblem where they have the characters move across the screen and vibrate up and down to indicate some form of movement which ends up looking absolutely ridiculous (I'm sorry. You CANNOT coordinate a sparring/dancing session with two characters overlapping each other, moving wildly across the screen. In fact, I think it makes it worse since they don't even have facial expressions).

If the story is presented well, then it makes the game much better, but in this way, I can't really get immersed too well. Expressions are very minimal and so I would have to rely on voice acting, which overall is pretty solid. There are some weak roles but I'll let them pass.

Finally, You run the same exact dungeons (with slight monster variations)in every story and nearly in the same order. What you end up seeing a lot of is the same thing. This somewhat adds to the monotony of the game. While characters change, the scenery doesn't, and you end up using the same tactics for monsters you've already seen before. The total monster index is actually surprisingly small.

Overall, Eternal Poison is a game that can be purely decided on your judgment. It is a demanding game that may or may not be to your liking. Depending on how you see it, it can be extremely rewarding or a disappointment. Each story takes around 10-15 hours depending on how you play, assuming you start a new game every time and don't do new game+. So overall it's around 60-80+ hours of game play, which isn't that bad to me. I can find time to dedicate that much, hell, I don't even want to know how much I clocked collectively between La Pucelle, Disgaea (all of them on all consoles except 3), Makai Kingdom, Phantom Brave, and Soul Nomad. The thing is, Eternal Poison (to me) doesn't really deem worthy of how much it's demanding. You as the player only start to really get into the story after perhaps your first story (preferably Thage as you start off as her in the prologue). Maybe it's just me, but that's far too long. That isn't to say I've dropped the game (I'm currently on the third story) but it wasn't really worth the pre-order (well, the artbook definately was) and the time spent on it.

It kinda feels like a tactics version of Odin Sphere except the immersion is a bit lacking.

Here's how it honestly feels like to me. I feel like Eternal Poison could have been an amazing game had more time been spent on it. I'm not too sure how much of the 4.7 Gb it covers but I wouldn't have minded a 2 disk set if they could keep the quality up. The story is really good but to get to the good parts requires a good chunk of time. Let me put this into perspective.

I've spent well over 25ish hours on Persona 4 without realizing it. It has a good hook and then tries to keep its pace. There are times where I groan, like one specific sauna like dungeon with absolutely trashy music that I abhor each time I HAVE to enter it, but I take it in good stride knowing that there's more. With Persona 4, I can't really see how far this game will go. Well, I do since it takes one year, but I don't know how much untapped potential exists in the game. With Eternal Poison, you play through two stories, and you've seen nearly every single monster available to you. It's now a matter of trudging through the story to see how it plays out. The battles start to become more like work, and it's weird since Eternal Poison is practically Grind-proof. I say that because you CAN'T go back. God forbid they make games challenging and force you to advance, but it loses its appeal once you've seen around 50% of the total battle content through ONE play through.

I would actually rank Baroque higher than this due to how immersive Baroque is. Despite its painfully hard dungeons, and unforgiving gameplay, the story right off the bat indicates how complex the scenario you're placed in is. After a couple run through, you realize that the dungeon changes according to how much you've progressed STORYWISE. Eternal Poison for me has too long of a crawl before you get to taste the gold. That isn't to say I don't like the story. I think it's complex and well done... uh rather, the latter half is well done, but it needs to go through a handful of re-edits if it wants to shine.

Random side note: I think Namco-Bandai got involved voice acting wise. I'm hearing a lot of Bandai regulars voice acting some of the cast as well as Atlus oldies (The voice actor for Aigis plays vivian and the voice actor for Kite from the original .hack// series plays Lavette). This actually brings up a concern of mine. Before, the total number of voice actors was so numerous among all games that hearing the same voice was kind of like a hidden jewel. Now I feel like the total pool of voice actors chosen is around... 12-15ish? that dominate the main roles and then a handful of cheap, skill-deprived extras and so, I'm hearing the same voice actors play a lot of roles. It's both good and bad in that it's good that I can gauge how good a voice actor is by his ability to adapt and bad in that, I want to hear some variations. I cannot even begin to name the number of games Yuri Lowenthal has been in as well as anime. I'm not saying I don't like Lowenthal, but damn, he's really popular. The same goes to a couple others.

Super random Side note: Resident Evil: Degeneration, the CG-animated film that takes place before RE:4 focusing on Leon Kennedy comes out TODAY. IN THE US. FOR REAL. IT'S GOOD. GET IT. P.S. I'm not sure if it's the same voice actor. Would be cool if it was.

Edit: *Slaps self in the face* I was going to post this on noon, but now that it's already published, I'm too lazy to change it back.... I'll just edit the time.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Review Delays

Merry Christmas!

So as I returned home, I noticed that I forgot to pack my memory cards. Which means that all the data I have on Persona 4 is back at the dorm. Instead of spending around 3 days getting back to where I got, I think it may be faster just to play Eternal Poison. Simply due to poor timing, I've been neglecting that game for a bit. I think it may be faster to recover that data than Persona 4.

Which reminds me, I still have material for this Saturday, don't worry about that.

I'm also now in contact with an insider on the gamer industry. I'm still unsure as to how much information I'll be able to obtain, but this makes two now (in addition to a friend in the Korean gaming industry).

On another board related note, a couple of close friends of mine have been building up a site, and they've asked me to join them. I won't tell you the details yet, but I can assure you that if I do end up joining, I won't neglect The Second Opinion. One year's worth of work is a big deal to me.

Final note. 100th post! 100 posts ago, I first started the Second Opinion.

P.S. in reference to those 100 posts ago, I technically have a forum up where you can discuss, but I'm still unsure about making it public. Rather, I'm not really sure if it's necessary.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

For those wondering why Disgaea 3 was on the PS3

Honestly, despite all the content they could jam into a game, it would be hard to believe that you could fill up a 4.7 Gb DVD. NIS America's latest press release states that Disgaea 3 will have downloadable content.

This seems to be the first of many packs. As if you didn't waste your life before, now there's a bigger reason to. Replay value has invaded the next gen consoles...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Expect Delays

Finals are finally done, celebration was under way. I'm going to sleep now. Sorry guys, but expect the post to either be later at night or on sunday. I have to help a group of people out who are crashing at the dorm, and I won't be able to make the noon post.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine Online - Review

I suggest opening all screenshots in a new tab.

Me just starting out.

I've dedicated most of my gaming time to this to attempt to give the best review possible. It's still gonna have some holes due to parts I may have missed from not progressing far enough, but I'll try to make do. And, as per request of psychon, I come bearing screenshots.

As you may or may not know, I've played through a handful of MMOs, too many being point-and-click disasters. Honestly, I wouldn't have played SMT:I for a week if it wasn't that. Hell, I wouldn't have reviewed it, I would've made a small side note saying, it's a point and click, gtfo, kthnxbai.

But thank god it's not.

Shin Megami Tensei:Imagine is a game that follows a pretty linear plot line where the world is based somewhere inbetween SMT and SMT:2. For those of you who aren't sure, Persona is the spinoff the Shin Megami Tensei, and so is the Digital Devil Saga. I know Atlus loves itself, but in all honesty, their narcissism is justified....

From what I've played so far (up to level 25, when you acquire your Demon Buster License), the story is lackluster and basically a large tutorial. You have side quests given by NPCs, and mainstream quests given by your tutor known as Snakeman. SMT:I takes place in a post apocalyptic world in which everyone nuked each other and then nuked some more under the influence and introduction of the "demons." The game takes place in Tokyo when people have begun to rebuild. The Japanese have built a gigantic tower in attempts to restore mankind what what resulted was a stir amongst the demons. People, fearing that this tower and its ominous aura, have begun to take the tower Shinjuku Babel. You play a survivor whose mission was to meet a demonbuster and explore Home II (an underground shelter for the Japanese). After a terrible accident and ordeal with a powerful demon, you find yourself awake in Home III under the wing of Snakeman. Thus, your journey begins.

First off, I've actually played too little. Once you acquire your demonbuster's license is when the game starts to pick up. Each player can go to a specific alignment (Law, Neutral, Chaos) and you move closer and closer to a certain alignment as you make specific decisions in the story.

I'm not gonna mince words.
What hooked me to this game was the battle system. The fighting is timed like Mabinogi. Every attack has a charge time, and a delay. Then each attack has a specific property that it's strong against and weak against. Like Mabinogi, you have attack,guard, spin, counter and rush (instead of strike), but this is the last mabinogi reference I'll make. From here on out, it's SMT only. Attacks take priority over rush, rush takes priority over guard, and guard takes priority over attack. The main focus of the battle is to either, extend your enemies delay to the point where you can land a solid blow, or deal consistent damage while finding a way to compensate for the building delay.

What's extremely interesting about SMT:I is that, the more of the same type of attack you deal, the longer your delay becomes. This applies to ranged characters as well. As you use more normal ranged attacks, the time it takes to reload the gun and ready up a shot is longer over consecutive attacks. So the game is really forcing the players to learn to mix skills and find strategies that help deal the most damage over the shortest period of time or deal damage without getting hit. In this sense, while stats matter a lot to how your character develops, the way a person plays can greatly affect the battle outcome. You can have lower levels taking on much stronger monsters simply because they're skillful. It's games like Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine, Mabinogi, (last one... really... I promise) and Age of Conan that push the envelopes of MMOs. I want a battle system that's fun, not just click, click, click, hotkey, another hotkey, click. MMOs are pure grinding, and the least developers can do is help alleviate the grinding madness.

Stats are based off of allocated points. You are given a number of points per level that you can allocate into Strength, Vitality, Magic, Intelligence, Speed, and Luck. The stat distribution is a bit unorthodox however. For example, speed only deals with long range damage, there is no dodging. I honestly have no idea what Magic is for, I know intelligence increases MP more than Magic does, so I'm assuming Magic is for magic damage. What this gives is a lot of freedom for multiple builds. While you have the standard Melee, Magic, Ranged category. You can now have different Melee types (Berserker vs. Sentinel) or have a magic ranged type. Needless to say, its free form stat building also gives much freedom for screwing up. Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine is supposedly a "free" MMORPG meaning that it'll probably follow the basics of microtransaction business methods. So, extra characters, and stat resets will probably be their income as well as special items and demons.

I decided to be a gunner in Closed Beta. I was tired of being the berserker or Priest in other MMOs. When this is released, I'm probably gonna have at least 2 characters though.

You can shoot all the way over there, from over here!

You can even....

Dodge Magic and Bullets!

New skills are based off a repetition usage system. Basically, your abilities are put into specific categories known as "expertise." The more you use a specific skill in an expertise, the more it grows. Expertise are grouped as followed: As you use a specific skill, that expertise gains points. Once you reach 100 points in that expertise, you gain a rank, and every 10 ranks = a class level up. Meaning that every class is 1000 points. Not all expertise however, have 10 classes. Certain expertise have only up to 1 class (with 0 Class being default). It's safe to say that every class has at least ONE skill with some classes having multiple skills. For example, the destructive magic class has 4 skills at Class 0 (Rank 1, 2 in rank 5 and rank 7). As you can see from the following screenshot, you'll notice a couple things. First, there's a max point. While this increases ever 10 levels, it DOES mean that you're "restricted" to a certain build, so it's best to have a faint idea of what you want to do and then slowly refine your build as you start to hit the cap. You'll notice that there's a red arrow next to some of them while there's a gray minus next to others. Because skills are placed in specific categories and a handful of skills are probably inadvertently used, you can decide which expertise will grow. This will help refine your build as you can grow an expertise to a certain class and then stop it's growth without having to worry about using a particular skill less. It's a great system from what I see.

So, there's the battle system and growth system. Now for the part that separates Shin Megami Tensei from the pool of MMOs. SMT:I THRIVES off of using demon companions as partners in hunting. The main focus is not only learning the battle system for yourself, but learning how to function properly with your demon companion. If you take a look at the screenshots, I want you to take a look at the bottom left hand side. That's your hotkey bar. The first 8 buttons are dedicated to demon skills and can be only used for demon skills. The rest are yours to use. In battle, demons (both friend and foe) follow the same battle tactic, so once you have become proficient in being skilled alone, you now add your demon to the picture. It's not "like" controlling two characters at once, you ARE controlling two characters at once. With a demon companion, character builds have stepped up another level. Although demon stats aren't controlled by points like players are, each demon still has a specific build that it follows. So now you can have a mage dedicated to attacking while having a demon that can be used to distract and take hits for the mage. Or gunners can have a close range demon to help deal additional damage and flinch the enemy so that it can help offset the increasing delay between shots.

So, how DOES one acquire a demon companion? Two ways, quest and direct interaction. You have a set of skills that allow you to talk directly to the demon. If your luck (actual, not stat) is good and you play your cards right, you can convince a demon to come along with you.

When you start off, you get a choice of Greeting, Taunt, and Threaten. If you decide to build up your conversation expertise, you'll have access to more skills such as bribing.

Some times, it's necessary to be a bit more....aggressive...

Surprisingly, it's much more complex than just spamming one conversation skill and hoping. What I noticed over time was that different demons respond differently to different skills. Certain demons respond well to threatens and level plays a factor in which demon is more likely to respect you. To put it in very simple terms, there are two values that the demon has in terms of conversation. Interest and Respect. If you want a demon to come along with you, you need to have both values at a specific point. If you use greeting too often, I noticed that high level demons just ignore you, and you're forced to kill it. By mixing skills you're changing the different values to a point where chances of it joining are high. Also, certain conversation skills can "insult" it which results in negative points all around (They actually get "defensive," a guard marker appears as if you struck a shield). Some demons respond well to an aggressive threat or a taunt while becoming aggressive at weak, optimistic greetings. Some demons are simply just too stupid to realize you want them to join you and require you to be more direct. For example, I taunted a slime telling it to hit me if it can, to which I received a response of "Uh... Okay" whereas an Angel would respond "Do not try to provoke me."

Demons play a big role in the game. You are able to fuse demons to make more powerful ones and demons also have an affection rate. Depending on the affection rate they can also deal more damage, give you items, and have a more advanced AI that supports you better. Maybe it's just me, but I noticed my "Linked by fate" demon attacked more often and was in better synch with my actions than my "Looking to Betray" demon which I had to manually control most of the time and I've done multiple dungeon runs on both.

You can even do a triple fusion which requires 3 party members each sacrificing one demon. The party host has to also pay for all the fusion costs and compensate the others.

As some of you may already know my policy but, I feel that no game is perfect and Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine also has it's flaws.

First off, I'd like to be informed when learning skills of a certain class are a "choice" or a "take all" section. What I mean is, for destructive magic, there are multiple skills in a single rank, and you're able to learn all the skills, however for melee classes, it's a choice between two skills. Because there isn't any forewarning I ended up choosing a skill that I wasted time for. Yes, there will be a reset function via microtransaction to help undo errors, but it would be nice not to make that error in the first place.

Second, Party Experience distribution is a bit odd. Even if you're not in the same zone, you share a small amount of experience (less than 50%) from your kills to your party members. When the experience is distributed, it's first broken down individually and then spread amongst the group. Meaning, the experience you receive is first based on the percentage of damage you dealt the monster and THEN divided by the number of party members (Max:5). This tends to leave a handful of experience lost to rounding as well as a chatlog riddled with numerous exp gains. Yes, you can technically set the chatlog to not display exp gains but for someone who's focused on getting levels in the most efficient way possible, it's somewhat important. You can't change the EXP rule by the way. The "random" loot drop rule is REALLY random and not based any turn based function, so it's possible for a guy who did no work to get all the loot. You can change it to most damage dealt, but I kinda expected to somewhat be an even distribution.

You can move with either WASD or clicking on the mouse. My main issue with this is that A and D AREN'T strafe. They're turning the character a certain direction. What's even more odd is that when you let go of the turn key, it takes an extra step in that direction thus not aligning the camera with the character... ever. If you move with the mouse, there IS no pathfinding algorithm. If you collide with a rock, you stop.

If a weapon has slots, you can only upgrade the slots rising incrementally. Meaning, you have to go to +1 first to get to +2 and +2 first to get to +3. If you screw up and accidentally press any LOWER number, it gets overwritten. While I understand this is needed for weapon balancing so that people can't just start off with +8, it also makes the +1 items EXTREMELY valuable and distort the economy of the game (the game has "recommended" prices to sell items but it gets more expensive the higher you get.) From what I see, the prices in reality will start off high, and then get cheaper as you reach around +4-6 and then get much more expensive as it gets harder to find items above a certain threshold...

It's not my place to say but... the community is already becoming a little sour. Because a specific story quest gives 100,000 bonus EXP (considered a lot at any level)for defeating a boss, you have a handful of high levels who don't really go to their intended areas and just camp a specific dungeon asking if people "need help" on a specific dungeon. (You see dungeons work in a way such that you need a specific item to access a specific dungeon. You can only receive the quest dungeon item once, and people want to farm it since the bonus is extended to all party members undivided) and that's just an example.

Here are some screenshots to cap off this review.

GO Shin Megami Tensei!!!

A forest setting to change the scenery a bit.

It looks like I'm gonna need more ammo....

P.S. I played a bit of Persona 4 (So I guess I lied about dedicating most of my time...) and I'm liking it. Already have an idea of what to write, but I'm gonna wait until I get really involved.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Lotsa mail today

First off, my kendo gear came in the mail, meaning I am now allowed to participate in competitions. Whoo!

Second. Persona 4 came in the mail as well, but I'm gonna hold off on that. Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine will be the review I do for Saturday, so just wait.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine (Closed Beta)

So as you can see. I'm gonna be a bit busy for a while. I'll be sure to get you guys an awesome review once I think I've seen enough.

You can sign up by going here. I'm warning you. The installer itself is 1.2 GB and the game is 3.2 GB, so if you're running low on space... make some.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Persona 3:FES - Review

I know I gave a review of Persona 3, but after finally completing FES[tival edition], I noticed how drastic the differences were. The FES storyline is completely different, not in a non-canonical way but in terms of story telling. Also, their fixes to the first game are worth noting.

You all know the storyline from my previous review and you all know about the shooting of selves in heads. Shut up. So I'll review what's changed in the original story and get right onto "The Answer" (the second part of the game).
First off, they let you transfer your game data over to FES, for the first game which actually made me enjoy the game a bit more. Now that I didn't have any qualms about time management, I could focus more on social links and finding hidden quirks in the game.
You're also allowed to start off in the special "Hard mode" difficulty. For one, I'd like to say that the hard mode is brutal. Following suit of all their previous games and current trend of ramping up the difficulty with better AI, hard mode simply makes the game harder. Not in the sense that they're higher levels than you, the REAL harder. They're smart. They exploit your weaknesses, they bombard you with stat modifiers and then take advantage of that. They use specific skills when necessary and some monsters now have the ability to heal. What's been keeping you alive is now one of their powers. The shadows move significantly faster and the the glowing red ones turn surprisingly fast. You can still bumrush the stairs and do all those tricks before (like hugging the walls) to avoid battle, but occasionally, I found a few that I just couldn't shake off. Oh, don't let them go first. If they do, they take their time killing you.

SEES AI was also improved as well. Each character now has a certain quirk in their AIs. For example, all characters now freely knock down monsters first if they can. So, you don't have to set them to "knock down" any more and hope that you'll be able to switch yukari back to heal, however Junpei will have a tendency to attack any monster he can kill via physical after he knocks it down. Mitsuru will apply mind charges and status ailment skills pretty often. Kinda annoying but you'll have to deal. Akihiko likes to do normal attacks. He'll use lightning ONLY when he needs to to knock down, and I haven't seen him use a lot of Polydeuces/Caesar's physical skills. Yukari loves her persona. She will cast Io/Isis for a garu skill more often than she will fire her bow.

I had some qualms before about the detail in Persona 3. Rather, how they talk about certain items but then never elaborate. Fixed. There's a handful of items including summer outfits and casual outfits that not only incite a response but now there's physical proof that incites their response. ACTUALLY having Yukari fighting in a maid uniform? Hilarious.

Everyone talks a lot more. If you thought they said a lot during battles, they talk even more now, and it seems that new lines were recorded. Aigis completely changes her script once she comes to self-realization. It's a short period of time that it's changed, but it makes battling with her so much more soothing. I understand the voice direction was to get a very robotic tone but I never liked how directors wanted broken tones as if it was synthed. The point of Aigis was that she seemed HUMAN, and thus with HUMAN tone emphasis. You could make her stand out by using a wide range of vocabulary that isn't in the vernacular but have a normal tone. That will still come off as robotic. Regardless, her script changed and with that, so did that robotic tone.

The first game now has weapon fusing, which is one of my favorite new features. You can fuse a persona into a blank weapon to get a new weapon with an attack value and effect that's particular to that persona. You can also get special weapons when you fuse specific personas. For example, you can get Mjollnir or Gae Bolg. Each special weapon also has it's own model. For example, Laevateinn is a giant two handed katana on fire. By the time you get to Nyx or if you imported your data, you'll have a party with overpowered, but cool, looking weapons.

Finally, rearrangement of personas, additional cutscenes, additional persona, and Aigis's social link: Aeon.

Now for FES.

(SPOILER ALERT. I suggest you beat persona 3 first. I will also reveal BIG key points in FES which I will label so that you can avoid them if you want.)

FES starts you off in a beautiful, anime cutscene with Aigis fighting Aikihiko. Corners are cut, but the style is still very distinct and there was a nice handful of good detailing that made it worth it. You'll also notice from the opening and music for the cutscene that Shoji Meguro changed up his style a bit for FES.

First off, the difficulty is set in hard mode, no questions, just deal with it. The story is now in Aigis's perspective and thus you won't have a silent protagonist. In fact, you really won't have a choice in terms of story line, it's quite linear.
At first, I thought FES would be that "filler" sequel where it just embellishes characters.

(SPOILER:highlight for spoiler)
And it really did seem like it too. For a good portion of the game, you're just seeing pasts. The only time the story picks up is during the commentary after those pasts. An interesting thing to note. Aigis is obviously based off of Zeus's shield as the "protector." Metis is a bit harder to explain. The greek term of Metis actually means wisdom. The titan Metis is also the birth mother to Athena, goddess of wisdom. Metis's name really follows the greek language as she is the voice or logic and reason throughout all of this commentary. Not only that, she's surprisingly cunning. Just goes to show you Atlus means to put a lot of effort into the games they develop, as if the compendium wasn't enough.
(end Spoiler)

It's only by the end did I start to realize this was so different than what I expected. I'll admit, the exposition and the build up for this was very very long. It covers a good portion of the game. It's fun, and exciting and the bosses piss you off with their really good AI but it was still climbing action. At points, I felt I was just playing it to progress the story. After that though, there's a grand climax and hardly a denouement. It packs all the plot twists and action all the way through.

If you played Persona 3 "properly," you would've learned that Yukari falls in love with the main character (ie:Max social link, Beach scene with Junpei asking "what's your type?", Beach scene with only Yukari, Christmas scene...etc). As opposed to the other characters who have a deep affection or gratitude, Yukari seems to be the only character who actually falls in love. It shows in FES, a great deal. Her love for the main character by the end is so prevalent that at points that it I felt it actually overshadowed Aigis who won his affection (which reminds me, now that I DID see the Aeon social link, it's hard to see the extent of who Aigis really is without it....) I thought little about when finishing the Aeon social link since I thought it was just part of the game, but I realized that the relationship that existed for the main character was much more complex than I expected. Persona 3 requires at least one play through maxing out different links to fully see the environment the main character creates.
(Spoiler end)

In terms of gameplay, it's fairly similar to the original game. The exception is that each "level" is much shallower than the massive Tartarus. Oddly enough, some of the levels were labeled after the levels of hell in Dante's Inferno. Interesting....

Bosses are hard on an unimaginable scale. Fighting each boss truly felt "epic." Almost always the bosses had something up their sleeves. Each boss could successfully support the other in terms of weaknesses and strengths. Certain bosses had specific movesets that is weak alone, but devastating when combined with other skills from the other bosses. All the bosses required a calm mind, lots of thinking and a handful of luck. Sometimes, you had to pray to the Random Number Generator that it wouldn't screw you over. (spoiler:Then there was fighting the main character. Nyx was nothing. we're talking about an enemy that changes persona constantly mid-battle. That's frustrating...Now I know how it feels to be a boss )I ended up actually AVOIDING some of the glowing enemies simply because they were hard. They felt like bosses. Atlus claims it's 30+ hours of game play for FES compared to the 80+ for Persona 3. It isn't that they've copied Persona 3 and made a smaller version of it. They compacted 80+ hours of gameplay into a 30+ game.

The thing that bothers me about it is how it seems to have been built off of the original Persona 3 and not the remade version. Aigis's battle dialogue was that of the old Aigis from P3. The annoying one, but then you could hear the new dialogue when she calls her persona or during certain attacks. I frown a bit to that. Atlus remakes Persona 3 with a new coat of awesome and then you get recycled material in the Festival edition. Oh well.

P.S. It's only around now that I realized Maaya Sakamoto was the voice for Aigis in the Japanese version. That's enough to make me slam my head against the table. Besides being well known, it's clearly obvious that the voice director knew what he was doing. Besides having a gorgeous singing voice she has a lot of voice acting talent as both a blank character and a passionate character. Examples: Hitomi Kanzaki in Vision of Escaflowne, Haruhi Fujioka from Ouran Highschool Host Club, Misho Amano in Kanon (the girl who talks to Yuuichi about Mikoto), Aura in .hack (all of them), Aerith in Final Fantasy VII and Kingdom Hearts (all of them). I honestly believe that she is up there in terms of acting skill with Aya Hirano. Great. Now my fanboydom will kick in, and I'll probably end up importing a copy... Someone shoot me now.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Oh CRAP! 10K

i just checked my adsense account to find out we broke 10,000 hits 3 days ago. (now at 10,112)

It's been a little over one year and this site finally hit 10,000 hits. To be honest with you guys, I did not expect this at all. When I first started The Second Opinion, I saw hits of like... 5. 20 when I posted. Now it averages 40-50 almost every day which really puts a smile on my face. It feels really cool that there's a larger audience that reads what I write, even if a little bit. I'm not gonna state any New Year's quote or anything, but I'm a big fan of benchmarks.

No, I didn't do an "it's over nine thousand" quote nor any relation to that. For those of you've been reading, you would probably expect better from me.
For those of you new. It's stupid. It's a meme. The day I follow memes is the day someone hacks my account. You can be much funnier with your own quotes, build up and punchline timing.

On another note. I was checking up on the ads of the board and I saw one for Coyote Ragtime Show. NICE.

P.S. Yes, there will be something tomorrow. I planned something out.

Left 4 Dead - Review

To those in the US, I hope you all had a good Thanksgiving. Now it's Black Friday and time to BUY BUY BUY. I on the other hand am at home waking up from a comatose state of an overdosage of good food yesterday. So now I will be reviewing for yall, not because I'm bored but because I love you guys.


Left 4 Dead is about... forget it. I'm not gonna try and make this more than what it is. There's no super complex story. Viral infection breaks out and there are those immune to it. Left 4 dead decides to then focus on a specific group of three guys, one gal who decide to work with each other to escape the city. At least, that's the story of the first campaign.

Since there's nothing really more to say about this zombie survival horror fest in terms of story, let me get right down to gameplay. (Mind you, I'll be speaking from the PC player's perspective, thus certain "difficulties," such as aiming a sniper doesn't exist. Sorry, I'll stop taking stabs at rabid FPS console players. I mean it thsi time)First off, to get a general premise of the story, you should probably see I Am Legend or at least, the evac scenes and add the zombie scenes to it to get a good idea.

Yes, the intro is very important. I'll get to that later.
So any avid FPS player has had their fair share of zombie survival horror games. If you had PC copies of Half-life and Half-life 2 (including Counter-Strike), you'd have played even more thanks to so many zombie mods made for those games. ANYWAYS, I'll say this about the trailer. Nearly everything you do in the trailer, you can do in the game. No joke.

It goes like this. You have a health bar, but it's purpose changes many times. The first time you're alive, it's just a health bar. Once it hits zero, you've fallen and now are on the ground. Not, you're dead, you're fallen and you need someone's help to get you back up. During this time, you can fire your pistol veeeeerrryyyy sllooooowwwllyyy against any zombies that want to kill you on the ground. Because once you've fallen, your health bar changes from a solid bar to numerous tiny bars. This means, your health is "temporary", it's set on a timer and slow goes down if no one decides to help you in addition to dropping when zombies hit you. If you take full damage while on the ground or if your health timer runs out, you're dead. If you're rescued by a friend, you get back up with 30 "temporary" health. My friends and I consider this "bleeding state." I don't know what the actual name is. This health will go down to 1 and stay at one assuming you're never hit again. If you fall down again, you're sent back to fallen mode, and if you're rescued again, you're in a fatal state, or what my friends like to call "black and white state." Because in your perspective, everything turns black and white. You start off with 30 temp health again, but if you fall, you will die. You can fix either of these states with a health pack that will restore your life back to 80 or more depending on how much health you had. Usually, it's 80 if you're in any red state (color of the health bar). Also, your running speed is dependent on your HP, whether it's temporary or solid. Around 60 is where you start running a bit more slowly and 30 is when you're limping. You can attempt to relieve the pain by taking pain killers (and gaining around 60 temporary health) but health packs are very important. If everyone's FALLEN/Dead, it's game over.

I wish I could tell you all the weapons there are (supposed to be around 16. Edit: I may have read the trailer at the end of the demo wrong. I'm pretty sure it said 10 NEW weapons but they may have said just 10 weapons...) but because my friends and I haven't beaten the first campaign yet, I can't really say it. I'll explain why we can't beat the first campaign later. But, with the first campaign, you start off with either an uzi or a pump-action shotgun and a pistol. You can pick up a second pistol for duelies, and if the random number generator is feeling nice, you can find a table of weapons which consist of an M4 carbine, Hunting (sniper) rifle, and an auto-shotgun. Along the way you can also find either a pipe bomb or a molotov cocktail.

All the zombies are alike... Actually sort of. I'm a big fan of Valve and their attention to a lot of detail. Especially this. In the first campaign alone, there are around... 25 different models for the generic type of zombie. Some have certain facial distinctions, you have both genders, a hospital is filled with nurse, doctor and patient zombies. Certain areas have military camo zombies. So when they swarm, it looks like a swarm and not just "oh look, there's a hundred Zack's." You will see overlapping, I never said you won't, but the overlaps won't be as obvious unless you paid particular attention to a specific zombie.

Then there are the special zombies. There's 5 of them and you can only use 4 in "versus mode" due to one having to fulfill a specific condition. They are as follows.

Smoker: These zombies are particularly tall and have a tendency to make smoke trails when they run. They have long tongues that can wrap around your body and drag you to them and rip you apart. Or just drag or body and let the hordes that you're dragged through kill you en route. When they die, they leave a smoky explosion. You know one's near by the hacking/coughing or raspy voice.

Hunter: Hooded parkour freaks. They honestly remind me of the main character of assassin's creed except without the killer assassin tools. They jump on a guy and rip him/her to shreds. If you get it off fast enough it won't deal damage. Annoyingly fast, impressive pouncing abilities. A deep growl with a high-pitched male shriek.

Boomer: The fat zombies. really fat. They puke on you to designate zombie hordes. My friends and I have basically realized that this zombie's purpose is to mark the enemy. When they explode their barf does as well and when you're slimed expect a zombie horde to attack you. They sound like they have loud bad digestive systems or they're constantly underwater.

Witch: Tiny albino girls with extremely long nail claws. Honestly? This zombie's actually pretty harmless, unless you shoot it, shoot in front of it, get too close to it shine a flashlight on it, or anything that could cause temporary seizure. You know you're close to a witch when you hear a girl crying and there's creepy music playing over the bass. Witches are more like frightened little girls, only that if you startle a witch, you're most likely dead unless you have REALLY skilled teammates. Also, witches only attack the person that startled them and then they try to run away. This is the zombie you can't play as in versus mode.

Tank: Everyone hates the tank. These are massive beings with around 8000 HP (the typical zombie has 50 I believe). They run a bit faster than your full running speed. they throw parts of the ground at you, and if you happen to be in a path of a tank running after someone else, you're fallen with a bit of HP overkill. Needless to say, headshots are priority but it's sometimes hard to find the head in such a massive upper body. It also has it's own epic rolling horn music, but you can hear one a bit further away by its super deep and loud voice. I occasionally mistake these for hunters.

The music is solid. There's this low bass humming in your ear throughout a lot of the game but when a swarm comes, you hear sharp notes with the brass section and super high paced music. A good mix of orchestra and synth. Then each special zombie has their own music which is both fun and annoying to hear. Annoying in the sense that you have to deal with one of them (let's say tank).

The cast of characters is great. You have Bill, a veteran, Francis, tattooed biker guy, Louis, a office worker, and Zoey, a girl (Yes, that's her occupation. They all look normal so i can't really tell if she does anything). What's great is that they all have their own set of lines based on a mold. You can kind of tell through the trailer but just listening to a lot of their dialogue throughout the game is funny. Also, there's a chance you won't get the same dialogue very time. For example, there's a part in an elevator when one time, Bill is talking about how this "zombie apocalypse" is nothing compared to the one he faced during his war time. Another time, Francis asks "who beefed" in the elevator. They talk a lot, and sometimes it helps lighten the mood of the game. Occasionally Zoey says "Dude, i'm half your size, get up." When she's helping a fallen character.

Now, the main reason why my friends and I haven't been able to beat the first campaign. Left 4 dead has 4 difficulties: Easy, Normal, Advanced, Expert (interestingly enough, in the console, it's labed Normal, Hard, Expert, Impossible). Any avid FPS player will be able to bulldoze Advanced solo with a bunch of bots as the other 3. Expert... not so much. Campaigns start off relatively easy and become harder the more you progress. So the first level is always a cakewalk compared to the finale. Expert is when you have more frequent swarms and multiple special zombies appearing at once. Voice communication and teamwork is absolutely necessary. You also need to balance the weapon spread. 4 Shotguns will not survive, and neither will 4 uzis. (what I prefer to call) 2nd tier weapons are different. There can be a spread of 3 carbines and one auto shotgun. Or 2 carbines and 2 auto shots or 2 carbines and one hunting and one autoshot. My point is, you need to learn to work together. This isn't quake, you cannot, I repeat, you CANNOT run and gun and pretend that you'll make it. that simply does NOT work. If at any point you are struck, you will flinch and stop moving. You cannot take on a zombie horde by yourself.

However. I find expert to be the only FUN difficulty because it's hard. It's one of those games where you get a sense of satisfaction when you beat it. Because of its difficulty however, I suggest playing expert with a bunch of really good FPS friends. Because friendly fire is always on, you need to have people who are really good with their trigger finger and will all follow the same strategy. Here's the thing, there's a chance you will meet 3 other expert players that are also good and follow similar strategies and you 4 will then blaze through the levels having fun. That's not going to happen very often. The lottery chance of that happening is too slim. Honestly, you're better off finding friends. Here's the thing. If you have 4 really good teammates, Expert isn't so bad, since everyone knows what needs to happen and communicates with their teammates well. I've yet to have that chance. I communicate really well with one of my friends and need to pull half the weight for another. That's beside the point.

The thing is, if you get tired of Expert, find it to be too easy. You can do something about it (unlike the Xbox version. Sorry). You can console mod it. Make swarms happen more frequently, increase the zombies' health, make more zombies in a swarm. Lower the recharge time required for smokers to spit out their tongues. Make those Hunters move even faster....

I found the demo to be like a "casual" game for hardcore gamers. But now that I've seen the entire game (4 campaigns and versus mode in which you have 8 players taking the role of the survivors or Special zombies) it's like an extended casual game for hardcore gamers. It's one of those very easy to pick up and play games that are always fun because of the AI director (or what I like to call an advanced random number generator). One of the great things about the maps is, although there's a fairly linear path for the survivors, there's always around 4-6 different paths the zombie swarm can take meaning you can't just throw a molotov at where you expect a zombie swarm to appear because that may not happen. They may bypass that route altogether.

It's a game worth getting for survival fans. I won't say horror, because horror lost it's image a while ago.

Oh yeah. Graphics are good. You'll probably need a good PC due to the processor dealing with a lot of zombies.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Life update

I won't be able to make tomarrow's post. There's been a dreading feeling I had in my gut this week and it was only about yesterday that I finally realized why.

I've got two papers due on Monday and thus, I'm going to start working on them now. (No, not to be read as I'll be procrastinating. You can't make a good paper on procrastination.) I may have some time by Sunday to post. Sorry guys.

In other news, I did a closer inspection of what the ad review thing was. Apparently, it's for reviewing ads from companies who specifically target your site (not happening) so I'm just going to have to use the blocker. Most visual ads have a website written on the bottom. Write it down or screenshot it and then write a comment or send an email to me if you can. I'm working on making the ads at least relavent.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Good news! Less sucky ads

As much as I'd like to remove the ads, I can't. Sorry guys. So here's the next best thing I can do. I recently signed up for this ad review thing for google. What that means is I can review and block ads from appearing on "The Second Opinion."

So, basically. I can filter these ads so that they only show ads relevant to the site or topic at hand. No more stupid morgage rates, or car ads. It's the least I can do. What I'll need you guys to do however, is to notify me in anyway if you see an irrelevant ad. I've just added this today, so it's going to take a while before the ads pile up. So let's say be next post, if you see an ad that doesn't belong. Comment or email with a screenshot if possible.

Ace Combat

Sorry for the late post. Party + Sleeping late = not a great time to wake up. Before I get started, I'm just gonna update you guys a bit.

Ar Tonelico 2 has been delayed till Jan, 20 2009. Oh well.
Eternal Poison has now been sent to a distributor within my city at 3:00 AM. That means I should be able to receive it probably by today. The thing that bothers me the most is that Eternal Poison was supposed to be shipped on the 11th. If I went to a store now, and pre-ordered from them, I would've gotten the game faster. I mean, doesn't this kinda defeat the purpose of a pre-order? Meh.

This is another title I can't really understand why I never went over. The entire series so far consists of eight or nine games I believe starting all the way back from the Playstation. The one to really note however is Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere, because it's Japanese release made the players realize Namco was going for a very strong story-based game rather than just a dogfight arcadefest. It had over 50 missions and an enormous amount of anime cutscenes that really wanted you to get involved with the game's story. Unfortunately, I think they removed all of that in the US release. They probably thought US players couldn't understand an aerial dogfight simulation having a story...

So then comes Ace Combat 4: Shattered Skies for the PS2. The first ace combat title for the PS2 that came out in November 2001, very closely after the release of the PS2. FYI, no, it wasn't a blue bottom. It was strictly DVD. For a game so old, it's graphics were actually very surprising. Planes had very crisp detailing and explosions varied depending on which special weapon you used (To this day, the F-15's Fuel Air Emission Bomb has got to STILL be my favorite). I'm not raving about this game because it's my first simulator either. I've played a lot of tank and dogfight simulators, and this just happens to be the most fun.

I normally hate simulators, but Ace Combat really changed my view. I ran the tutorial and did the basics, then started the single player mode. To my surprise the opening scenes, the intense radio chatter, and the progression of the story and how it feels like you're doing something in the game kept me hooked onto it. This game was really fun.

The music is phenomenal. Part-orchestra, part-synth edit, it always fit every mission and each track helped set the gravity of how important certain missions were. It wasn't ambient music persay but it felt nice having a very tense symphony play in the background as you fought.

Like I said before, the story really hooks you. It doesn't feel like a compelling story at first but in Ace Combat 4, you're looking through the eyes of a boy as he lives in his occupied town. He talks about the various things he hears and the people he meets. You also then see some of your own "feats" in their newpapers, which goes to show you that everything is inter-related.

Another great part about the game is that there are difficulty levels for everyone. It can start off easy, and then get to extremely hard where all the enemy pilots have almost about as much skill as you do while some of the aces have as much or even more.

The major drawback to the game is that it's time consuming. VERY time consuming. Each mission on average lasts around 30-60 minutes. Sometimes I think I saw the timer at 90. You'll be playing for a long time on a single mission. It actually may not feel like much since getting from point A to B and then circling around for a better shot at a ground target will kill some time, but you'll play for a long time.

There's also a bit of travel time involved. Most battles don't start you off right in the heat of the moment. Almost always you're launching from your carrier and getting debriefed en route. I'm not bothered by it since the radio chatter is something I actually enjoy but the first minutes or so of a mission may be boring.

Money is pretty restrictive, you have to know be smart in what planes you buy. No doubt you'll get a good feel for what a fighter, attacker, multi-role should do but regardless, you'll need a few good playthroughs bombing key points to rack up the highest score and thus the most money for planes and weapons.

By no means is the "the most realistic game ever." It's a fun game. It's arcadeish. There's no possible way for a plane to carry 50 sidewinders and not crash into the ocean.
It's also a simulator. If you're not into that kinda stuff, I'm not forcing you. It just so happened to be that this game changed my view. That's all I'm saying.

I know I've been talking about Ace Combat 4 for a while, but after playing nearly all of the games in the series the rest are similar. It seems weird that simulation games with a very similar premise could so much fun. I mark 4 and Zero as my top because 4 was the one that opened the road for the continuation of such a good series and Zero has been able to incorporate nearly all the strengths of its predecessors. Here's a brief overview of each game.

4: Multiplayer mode, First game for the PS2
5: Single player, Squadron commands, Choose your path (You can only play 28 of 32 missions linearly)
Zero: Multiplayer, enhanced wing man command, reputation ranking (depending on which targets you destroy and "what you say" in the cutscenes, you're considered a Mercenary, soldier or knight.)

I'd honestly suggest you get all the games to see the difference but I say get 5 first, then 4 and then Zero. I've yet to play 6 (For the XBox 360) I can't say for certain how it's like but with a special edition containing the two joysticks, I'm pretty sure it's also extremely good. Not to mention with a better GPU, the graphics would probably get a nice bump.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

I'm noticing a peculiarity....

Go to and type "Mabinogi Review." See if this comes up...
If it does, post a comment please.

To be honest with you, I have no idea how this happened. After noticing the comment distribution throughout all my posts, I'm noticing more feedback on the Mabinogi review, which actually kind of bothers me. I like getting attention and all but what exactly happened here?

On a another note, I'm going to need to start tracking where all the traffic is coming from. Unfortunately, I forgot the site that does that (some girl's If someone could point me in the right direction.

New Poll coming up. I'm sorry to the 35 of you who took time to submit your "vote" but I really need to know...

Oh by the way, if there's any title (game or anime) you want me to take a look at, post a comment or email me, I'll try my best to get my hands on a copy.

Oh right. Eternal Poison comes out this Tuesday. Hopefully, I can get a first impressions post up later.

Edit time 20:21 :Digg this buttons are now up. The first one is synched right but the rest will bleed into the next post. Shouldn't really matter for those up to date. Remember to digg it if you think it's worthy.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3 - Review

Unexpected, I know (I got a game that recently came out), but I was able to get my hands on this game and it has piqued my interest in RTS games once more.

I'm going to rip this synopsis out of wikipedia simply because I haven't played the Red Alert games enough to know the storyline. Mind you, this will probably be from the start of Red Alert.

In 1946, at the Trinity site in New Mexico in the United States of America, Albert Einstein created a time machine which he referred to as the "chronosphere" After his experimental "chronosphere" device is activated, he finds himself in Landsberg, Germany, in the year 1924, where he meets a young Adolf Hitler just after the latter's release from Landsberg Prison. Following a brief conversation between the two, Einstein shakes Hitler's hand, with this somehow eliminating the man's existence from time and returning Einstein to his point of origin. This prevented Nazi Germany from forming and averted World War II as we know it from taking place.

With the threat of Nazi Germany having been successfully removed from history, the Soviet Union began to grow increasingly powerful under the rule of Joseph Stalin. Had Adolf Hitler risen to power, Nazi Germany would have emerged as a force standing in the way of Stalin's own ambitions of conquest. Instead, left unchecked, the USSR seizes land from China and then begins invading Eastern Europe, in order to achieve Joseph Stalin's vision of a Soviet Union stretching across the entire Eurasian landmass. In response, the nations of Europe form into the Alliance, and start a grim and desperate guerrilla war against the invading Soviet army. Over the course of years there were many conflicts (Command & Conquer: Red Alert, Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2, and Command & Conquer: Yuri's Revenge), some of which "never happened" due to tampering with the time stream, but with the Soviet Union ultimately on the losing side at the start of Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3.

Seeing the Premier of the Soviet Union's office empty, Lieutenant Cherdenko reveals to General Krukov a plan to travel back in time to 1927 with their own time machine and assassinate Einstein (He still developed the high-tech nuclear weaponry for the Allies), in order to change history and restore the Soviet Union as a world power. They do so, with Dr. Zelinsky in tow, and arrive in the wings of an auditorium. As Einstein comes off stage from giving a speech, Cherdenko shakes his hand. The result of the action is presumably the same as what happened to Hitler: Einstein is erased from the timeline. The trio is then returned to the "present", where the Soviet Army has the Allied forces on the brink of defeat in Europe and Cherdenko is Premier of the USSR.
-This is where I fill in-

Suddenly, the Soviet Union is attacked from the East by the "Empire of the Rising Sun," the Japanese Army based on high-tech/nanotech weaponry. These invaders are unable to be immediately stopped due to a non-existance of nuclear weaponry (thanks to a lack of Einstein) and so a three way war begins between the Allies, Soviet Union and the Empire for control over the world.

From what I remember, Command and Conquer has always been EA's attempts at bringing a quality RTS to PC gamers. On many occasions it has worked on a pretty good scale. If people weren't playing Starcraft or Warcraft III, they were playing some variation of Command and Conquer.

Too often, the initial releases of Command and Conquer has had balance issues with specific units or an exploitation of a specific strategy that often results in some whiny outcry (see: Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars and their "issue" on tank rushing....). That doesn't seem to be the case here though, after going through an extremely thorough Closed Beta, the final result is a game that has some really nice balances along with interesting touches from all their previous games.

First off, each faction has their own way of building. While the main concept has now been the MCV, expansion is different for the different factions. The Soviet Union is for those who are used to Tiberium Wars and its playstyle. The Allied Forces have a touch of the US building style. Then there's the Empire of the Rising Sun whose style is something completely new. You build the "building cores" from the MCV (miniature mobile units) which then need to be individually moved so that they then form the building that they're the core of. It makes expansion quite easy, yet hard. Because you can build Refineries in certain spots faster than the other factions, getting a defense core there is just as necessary. So each faction has their own advantages and disadvantages now based on their building style as well.

A great feature that's been implemented is the Co-op campaign mode. Every campaign will always have two commanders meaning you can go through campaign with a friend through the EA servers. Needless to say, that's going to be very fun. It's been a while since such a feature existed and I believe the last time it happened was Myth II....

Finally, naval units are introduced. If anyone loved the Naval support that the US had or the long range sea-to-surface artillery support in CnC:Generals you can now build aircraft carriers and other seafaring goodness. This made my day. I honestly think that this is probably the only other game besides M.A.X. that had units for Land, Sea, Air. It seems a bit primitive (no vehicle transport overseas, meaning no island battles... yet) but it's a good start and puts a really cool spin on amphibious units.

To be honest with you, I can't really find any other "good" things to say. It's not that there aren't anymore, just it's hard to explain the interface, general progression, and player strategy of a real time strategy game into words.

Basically, those that play these games already have a certain standard that they want. Decent A.I. Special unit functions. Good music (which EA never seems to have skimped out on), faction/unit balance. So to mention any of these traits would be superfluous, rather I would need to focus on the parts that bother me as that would give a better understanding of the overall feel of the game.

One of my main issues is actually with the A.I. It's been designed so that the computer rushes early and uses certain basic infantry tactics that rush based human players would use. On that matter, it's actually done really well. In fact, the entire small squadron management and rush tactics are beautiful, but that's about as far as it goes.

If you rush earlier than the computer, the result is a confused A.I. using desperation tactics, which means that you can whittle a "Hard" A.I. if you bring in anti-armor and anti-infantry/air based on the faction into a "please have mercy" A.I. If you stay defensive, what you don't get is a heavy stream of high tier units and merciless mass destruction on ALL your weak points like the earlier games. It seems all the focus was placed on squad support and management which resulted in a good but one-track minded A.I. that can't handle a 30 min+ game.

What I mean is. If you only play the computer. You're going to get used to its quick-fire rushing capabilities and while it's fun for a short period of time, it seems to lack advanced tactics for outposts and just becomes a sitting duck once ores are depleted. Not only that, you can't really enjoy the final tier units since you're always being pounded by small balanced squads that become a threat if you leave them alone.

While within each faction, each general does have their own unit/tactic tendencies, it's not drastic enough for you to really care. You really just have to tweak your anti-unit balances.

Honestly, I kinda miss Tiberium Wars...well more importantly, Generals: Zero Hour. All the maps in that game were abnormally huge which led to ridiculously intense, long battles. That isn't to say that a 6 player mayhem isn't fun in RA3, it just feels different. It doesn't seem as epic since you're not seeing over 200 or so units blowing the hell out of each other.

Now it's just me nitpicking, but I kinda miss being able to zoom so far in that you can see the parts of a single infantry's helmet. Superfluous? Yes, but it has such a grandiose look and makes you appreciate the graphics that much more.

Like I said before. This game has reignited my fire for RTSes. I thought I'd be rusty and lose interest but partaking in a 6 man Free-for-all suddenly made all my RTS memories come rushing to me like a Madeline cake (see: Proost). After the attack, I began setting squads and micro-managing units like I once did in Starcraft. Maybe it's the hype talking, but I haven't had this much fun from an RTS in a while, and no doubt Starcraft 2 will be the same

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Candidate for Goddess (Pilot Candidate) - Review

I remember watching this show years ago on Cartoon Network and I loved it. Then suddenly, it stopped. Right as I began to become very engaged with the story, another show had filled its time slot. Frustrated I went to a local DVD retailer who imported a lot of anime and asked him to import all of Pilot Candidate. To my dismay there were only four volumes, meaning that what I watched on Cartoon Network WAS all of Pilot Candidate.

Typically, I'm not a fan of the "Mecha" genre, rather I'd say that the Gundam series ruined it for me, and so it was by chance that this caught my attention. The characters looked very generic at first, and continued to be so, but at some point, there was development.

Bear with me for a while. I know it's gonna sound really cliche early on.
Pilot Candidate is about a futuristic time when humankind has been able to colonize other planets. But then an alien race known as Victim began terrorizing humans leaving them with one planet known as Zion. Humankind's main defense are known as Ingrids, large mechanical beings (really well modeled if I do say so myself. Rather than the clunky armor everywhere, they all look very sleek) capable of destroying Victim easily. Thus begins the training to have a handful expendable pilots who will steer the Ingrids to save mankind.

So yes. Everything sounds like a basic cookie cutter show. Let me note the differences though. While Zero, the protagonist, is a basic hot-headed guy who has potential and ends up being one of the candidates with better potential along with a generic silent-type rival, his attitude actually ends up being a deterrent to his training. No. Let me restart.

This show is about the TRAINING of Pilots! There is no "I've never touched a mecha before, but now that I know that this is my power, I'm a prodigy." There is no "I DON"T WANNA KILL PEOPLE BUT I'M DOING IT ANYWAY!!!!" There's no annoying side character that tries to inject the main hot-headed protagonist with humanism.
In fact, the character conflict between Zero and his Repairer, Kizuna was interesting since she was hot-headed as well.

The way pilots control their mobile suits are also an interesting twist. They wear a headset that reads brainwaves and reacts accordingly to their actions inside a cockpit that reads their body movements. How does it work? They stand, switch on a headset and control. It's the G-Gundam that wishes it was better and didn't envelop everyone in a very questionable latex leotard.

Every candidate and their respective repairer candidates were also interesting. One of which was really shady. At some point there's this one fat candidate that's like 15 or so kilograms above regulation so he's dragged off for special training by his repairer. He comes back 2 or 3 episodes later, looking much slimmer. Obviously, his fellow candidate friends ask what happened and he says he can't say. There's a flashback memory of him imagining his repairer and her saying "it's a secret." Then it's followed by Zero asking Kizuna something causing her to freak out on him. Maybe I'm taking it the wrong way but the innuendo was very strong.

A strong interaction between the characters made me like the show. In addition, Pilot Candidate took the entire Mecha approach slightly differently, moving towards Zone of the Enders or Super Robot Taisen. Finally, when the show seemed to reach a climactic point, it stopped. Not, the next episodes were then filled with trash, it actually stopped, as if someone pulled the plug.

What was probably the most frustrating part about this show's sudden ending was the opening theme and animation where Zero dons the uniform of an Ingrid pilot and greets his Repairer, Kizuna and eventually enters the Ingrid that saves his life. I feel that teasing the audience with that kind of opening only to have it end abruptly is unfair.

As a person who looks for the mecha anime that shine the darkness, I highly recommend this show. The Mechs are there for character improvement and they're ALL trainees. They ALL suck at actually controlling their mechs. That's right! THEY SUCK.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween

How fare thee on this day? I just watched the homestarrunner yearly halloween toon which was better than I expected. Not the top quality stuff they used to have but some good moments some bad.

How are you guys celebrating halloween? Or do you even celebrate at all? I personally am not sure what to do. First halloween where I'm not at a friend's house raiding his building (of 3 towers) for candy (which was almost got us around 11 lbs of GOOD candy). I'll probably think of something.

Yes, I know I've been neglecting this place for a while. Sorry. I'll get right into motion tomorrow. I've got an anime review set up already and am thinking of a game to review. Maybe a second anime one...

On another note: I'm thinking of adding another label to my posts known as Zerreth's Picks. They're things I believe you should absolutely take a look at.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Combat Arms - Review

Combat Arms is a microtransaction FPS hosted by Nexon. The developers are known as Doobic Studios. To be honest, I've never heard of them before. I ended up starting Combat Arms cause I got bored and I was both pleasantly surprised and disappointed at the same time.

The good parts:
For the most part, guns have been very well balanced, and it's possible to kill anyone pretty easily with any gun. While the AK-47/74 are and always will be my favorite (depending on whether i'm in a 5.45 mood or a 7.62 mood. A little joke for you gun buffs)there are a variety of really useful and fun weapons to use. You also get a nice variety of grenades including gas which is always fun to toss in a crowded building.

You can attach modifications to your weapons. Want better accuracy? Slap on a red dot. Need a bit more ammo boost? Use an extended cartridge. Don't really like your gun going off at a funeral? Silencers for you. You can attach usually up to 3 modifications for your gun (one from each column) and it tends to make your gaming experience much more fun.

There are different game modes so that you can never be really bored. Bombing missions, Capture the Flag, deathmatch, team deathmatch on a variety of different maps that generally follow a tileset but really affect what camo you need to wear.

Your character can be modified to your liking. Change his hat or his camo. Switch the backpack he uses so you can have different primary weapons with you at all times.

And if you're willing to donate, there's the micro-transaction shop that has a handful of useful, really nice weapons and equipment.

The bad parts:
Overall, I think this was actually a half assed game. There's modification in the game but it seems to do so little... Rather. There's too little of it. You get a choice of 2 scopes that either tell you the range or how much hp/ammo you have. They're good red dots but there are only two for pistols and guns. Next is the extended cartridges which extend a bit and help out drastically, but doesn't seem to affect the gun overall and it seems you can extend the cartridge of any gun, which if I remember correctly, isn't true. Finally you get the silencers. You need to play for a bit to get a higher rank for the other silencers but generally there's 3 with noise reduction as an obvious. recoil reduction, tracer reduction or muzzle flash reduction. Once again, these can be equipped onto every gun.

There aren't any sniper scopes, you're stuck with the one you're given.

Here's what I honestly feel about the gun modification for this game. I feel they tried too hard to be SOCOM 3, which was amazing in modifications. They did a decent attempt but it feels too much like an optional "bonus" feature you slap onto your gun rather than a necessity. I kinda miss some rifles that have good accuracy being able to equip 4x scopes rather than red dots. I kinda miss thermal scopes for sniper rifles or a massive 16x high powered scope. When I add equipment onto a gun, I want to see the result of it being heavier and slow me down. When I equip a rocket launcher, I want to see the result of it being heavier and slow me down DRASTICALLY.

I want armor to have a more prominent effect. Too often I see my health go to zero with my armor at around 85ish (No, they weren't headshots). What... is all the armor I'm equipped with in my foot? It doesn't help to know my teammate's HP is 150 (HP+AP). It seems the only useful headgear is headgear that reduces headshot damage.

Remove the SP Gauge or keep it hidden like in Call of Duty 4. If there was to be more interaction with it like in Warrock where you can tumble in any direction, then it would have a point. Otherwise, just hide it. I'd assume my running stamina's limited anyway.

In all FPSes, there are two games that are fighting for supremacy of the best gunshot sounds: Counter-strike and Call of Duty 4. It's not that I want sounds to be realistic. I want sounds to be distinct. What is so great about the sounds in both those games is that each gun and pistol has a very distinct, unique sound that allows me to differentiate guns and change my tactics up to the point they even switch to them.

In Combat Arms, there's about 8 different gun sounds total applied to all the guns. Why is it so important? I want to know for a fact, I'm going up against a K2 (which I can take easily), rather than an M4A1 (which has a better chance of kicking my ass). I want be confident that I'm going against a Steyr AUG rather than a G36C which has enormous power and could kill me in one shot if I had thirty some odd life rather than a Steyr which could kill in 2.

I don't understand why Sub-machine guns have higher damage than a handful of assault rifles. From what I believe, it's a balancing issue (since they don't seem to take weight into effect) but it seems kinda ridiculous that an MP5 deals more than my M16.
I would also like to know how large the magazine cartridge is IN NUMBERS. This gets very irritating when choosing a pistol as I cannot differentiate each bullet in how long a bar is on a gauge. I want to know for a fact the USP has 10 rounds, not somewhat decently high on an arbitrary scale of how useful it's ammo capacity is to itself.

The maps, despite ranging in variety, are pretty poorly made. For one thing, far too many maps are too small to accommodate 12 players. Also, having a single spawn point in a small map makes it far too easy to spawn kill. Then there's maps like junkyard, a tiny map that really should have weapon restrictions coded. You can actually RUN from your spawn to about 3/5 of the way to the other spawn. There's something wrong about bringing machine guns and assault rifles to a map that tiny.

There's really no BIG Map. There's kinda bigger than medium maps which have maybe 2 spawn points per team... that are conveniently placed very near each other....and defeat the purpose of multiple spawn points...

Too many of the maps are also centralized. If you were to give a summery of what a Combat arms map would be like from spawn point to spawn point, it's simply this. Small path that funnels your team into a larger box shaped area and then to a funnel to the other spawn. There are only 2 or 3 maps I can think of off the top of my head that don't do that but then have very large complexes in the center of the map. It's as if the developers are saying "Ignore everything you know about tactics. We'll do it for you. All you have to do is fight like a bunch of idiots in a nice complex maze we set up for you in the center."

Finally. The weapon shop. Yes. There's even something wrong with the weapon shop. First of all, when I want to buy something. I want it to be centralized. I don't want to have to buy a weapon. Go to mods. Then fumble my way around the mod screen to remember how to buy a mod and then buy it. I also want to know the stats of my own gun, not the stats of the gun that was highlighted in the store but was saved due to poor programming when I switched to my inventory. I want to be able to compare my factory made gun with some of the other slightly better factory made guns.

But this thing bothers me the most about the weapon shop. Timed items. Everything in the game is timed. After a certain amount of time, the gun expires. It's more of a trial really, which utterly turns me off about the game. I want to buy a weapon, and still have it just in case at some point I come back to it in the future because of a delay that I may have experienced from a thing known as LIFE. I cannot dedicate 8 hours a day of gaming to Combat Arms, nor do I intend to. I would like to have my mods stay on my gun, not disappear because my 30 day trial period is done. Yes, I know if you play a certain amount you can actually make a profit. In fact, I've been playing so that I can buy a one day gun and make enough money to make a profit. In addition, I found a glitch that allows me to keep a 1 day weapon for about 2-3 days. That's beside the point. I understand the point of this for cash shops but why even the normal shop?

I'd rather have the guns timed on a gameplay basis or have a degradation element to it. I don't want to buy a free 30 day weapon only to find out I had to attend to family issues and come back to lose so much time required to keep a profit.

In short. Combat Arms is a fun game for short bursts, or for a second job like WoW. There's no middle ground and I guess I should've expected as such since you don't pay for the game and thus reap the rewards of quality. My only wish really is for Combat Arms to be a bit more accommodating and focus on one aspect of the game or the other. As of now, it's very wishy-washy and teetering between Soldier Front and SOCOM 3.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Devil May Cry 4 - Review

So my friend lent me his copy of DMC4 for the PC. I know this game's been out for a while but still, he somehow got me into it.

Devil May Cry 4 is about a guy named Nero with white hair a black coat and red shirt, NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH DANTE who is a guy with white hair a red coat and a black shirt and a 5 o'clock shadow. Oooooooh the characteristic changes...

Character-wise, Capcom really made a bad decision. It feels like they tried to make an alternate Dante and fell asleep half-way through resulting in Nero. Dante is just filled with bad-assery. His reactions and his overall attitude is something I always smile at whenever there's a cut scene with him. Nero, seems to be this Devil May Cry 3 version of Dante with too much emotion in him. I'm just gonna say it, as if it isn't obvious already. Nero is in love with Kyrie, and so his cool, indifferent attitude is always broken with the mention of Kyrie. I don't think there's something wrong with it, just the way they developed Nero as a character seems so half-assed. I was kind of expecting Nero to keep his cool attitude and follow Kyrie when she's in trouble, but he breaks down too often showing a really weak character.

Sure, you can say that it's his "deep love" for her that makes him so emotional, but... oh right... we're not making another Dante here, sorry. It's just that they look more or less the same.

In another aspect however, the way they portrayed the story was very well done and probably one of the best. The action is ALWAYS enjoyable and helps you get pumped up for rights. Some of the scenes, I just don't get, but that's okay. Despite my issues with Nero and his major character flaws, I can't help but enjoy the way Capcom portrayed the story. So now that they have a good director, perhaps we can get a new script/storyboard writer? The story was average despite it's good directing. It's about a guy, who pretends not to care about a girl he loves, living in a town that worships Sparda as god. Blah blah really doing evil stuff for "greater good"....mumble...snort... Kyrie get's used for something evil....garble... generic trash...Nero must fight pope... Nero finds his "true purpose".....

Gameplay has been cleaned up which is something I thoroughly enjoyed. My main issue with Devil May Cry 3 was that despite showing just exactly how superior the sword was to the guns, they didn't do anything about it. You still got very simple hack and slash capabilities that didn't help the feel of the game. Devil May Cry 4 however, gives you a very advanced melee system that seems simple at first but requires a good amount of playtime to understand its complexity.

Nero's buster arm in particular makes the game much more fun. First, you have his melee combos that you can break off at any point assuming your timing is good enough. So you can link combos really well and while it seems hard to get used to at first but the timing will get easier later (or you can just push the "I give up button) and switch to ..... "automatic mode"). Next, let's say you kinda threw the enemy too far, NO PROBLEM. Just use your buster hand's snatch ability to throw the enemy back to yourself for another fun combo. You can also counter many moves with the Buster arm (I mean Devil Bringer but that's too long and convoluted...). A cool addition that they have are special cinematic combat scenes you can pull off if you use the Buster at the right time. It's similar to the event triangle buttons in Kingdom Hearts 2 except they don't hold your hand. You need to figure it out yourself. Finally, Nero has the Exceed Gauge, or EX. Apparently in the in the um.... I don't know. The game's timeline in comparison to their technology makes no sense.

So, it looks like the 20s with really old cars but then you have custom, semi-auto pistols and rocket launchers... and the Queen's Blade... Let me explain the queen's blade a bit and YES, this is relevant to Exceed. Apparently these swords have the abilities to be... revved up... like a motorcycle, and thus bringing out more power from them. Considering the hilt is so compact it seems to not make sense.... anyways that's what the Exceed Gauge is based on. There are two ways to rev up your blade, the first being to do it manually, which takes time and isn't worth it. The second is by revving immediately after an attack which gives you one gauge (with a total of 3). Now, unless you S-rank missions on your first play through, the game really doesn't accommodate the full use of the Exceed gauge. Because if you gain access to higher level exceed techniques you need to manually rev the blade, which becomes a hassle. There is an ability however to max rev your exceed gauges after an attack which makes the game much more fun and much more complex. Let me just put this into perspective and combine all the melee elements Nero has to put this into perspective.

You can go around hacking and slashing enemies with your own combos that all require timing and some requiring delays. You can break off mid-combo to toss them into the air. Air combo them a bit, then they start to fall while you're still in mid-air. That can't do. Use Buster's snatch ability to toss them back to you for another combo but alas you have killed the enemy. Well, snatch another enemy while still in mid-air and so on and so forth. Now let's add exceed.

After the first hit, you exceed, pause so that the game recognizes you're done with the combo. Use a special move that uses the exceed gauge and observe the fiery death you have dealt, exceed at the end to keep your gauge up. Toss a couple fiery revolutions into the air and exceed after every hit in an air combo killing your enemy. Snatch another enemy while in mid-air and run him down into the ground with a fiery explosion thanks to exceed which has just made a small crater and given you more open space...oh yeah exceed after that. Mastering exceed is one of the hardest concepts in the game, but once you understand how to exceed really well, your sword deals more significant damage and will save you Legendary Devil Knight Mode (I'll talk about that later).

After playing Nero, Dante's style get's very confusing. Since you have lost the buster ability, you're going to have to rely on actually going to an enemy or let them come to you. In addition, you need to practice switching styles very well to fully utilize Dante's abilities. From what I've seen, Dante deals significantly more damage in general than Nero (at least, it seems like it) and his moves seem to focus more on switching a lot. What does that mean? Well, in Devil May Cry 4, Dante, by the end, carries 3 different guns (though I ended up using just one) and 3 different melee weapons. While each weapon is developed in combos a bit, the real beauty to Dante is switching weapons and linking multiple combos. For example. You take his Gilgamesh (gauntlets and greaves) and pull off a ridiculous uppercut dealing tons of damage, then switch off to either Lucifer (makes exploding swords appear) or Rebellion and then air-combo and then decide on another weapon for the finish. The game's been designed for this as everything can change instantly. While in actual practice you may only use 2 or 3 styles, utilizing all the styles along with the weapons really gives Dante an interesting edge.

So what is Legendary Devil Knight Mode? Devil May Cry 4 like the other DMC games have harder difficulties after the first playthrough giving you replay value. The PC version however has it's own exclusive difficulty past Dante Must Die mode known as Legendary Devil Knight Mode (I'm shortening this to LDK). LDK Mode has an advanced A.I and but what's most noticeable about it are the enemies. Or rather, the existence of 3 times MORE ENEMIES than any other difficulty... at the same time. This is a mode that really puts your crowd clearing abilities to the test. Needless to say, it's better to run through this after your second or third play through. However, this is also the most fun I've ever had in Devil May Cry. It isn't ridiculous like Heaven or Hell mode (where you die in one hit) nor like Dante Must Die (where they Devil trigger). It's just pure deathfest with a lot of guys.

What bothers me about Legendary Devil Knight mode is how it amplifies all of the game's BAD parts so that they're more noticeable. More specifically, the existence of so many more ground combos but the lack of need for them. Since air-comboing is one of the only ways to keep up some decent damage without getting hit and thus keeping your style gauge up, initiating those convoluted ground combos really opens up your weak spots and gets you killed faster. Thus, I've spent a lot of the game floating in mid air instead of utilizing crowd control moves (except for maybe streak) or stylish combos simply because I want to keep my rank up and I don't want to die.

As a final comment, play Devil May Cry 4 for the gameplay, not it's story. While the graphics are amazing, Capcom doesn't really use it's full potential and give us a story to match. I kinda wish someone in the script department would be fired. A lot of Resident Evil games have suffered because of these guys. Though apparently Devil May Cry 4 was created by the same team who made Resident Evil 4. So in some aspects in makes a bit of sense (see napoleon and the ending) and in another sense it leaves me confused (see the rest of RE4 for the Wii or PS2).