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.