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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.