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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Braid - Review

Braid is a platformer that my friend notified me about. It's a fairly basic one in terms of game mechanics in that it's a straight up 2D sidescroller. You jump on enemies to kill them and to go to jump higher.

What's unique about it is its mechanics with the other function: the rewind/fastforward function. If you do happen to die the game will politely ask you to press a button (in this PC gamer's case: shift) and time will rewind until you let go. At first I thought "Oh how clever" but then I came to realize that the rewind function was going to be one of the main parts of the game.

Levels are divided into worlds which then have smaller segments (rooms) that focus on a certain platforming puzzle. Worlds themselves have rules that change up how the game is played. For example, some rooms are designed where time will only move if you move (left or right) which can result in dead enemies respawning and some stubborn key mechanisms of the game.

A good portion of the platforming puzzles rely on the rewind feature to help you progress. There are puzzle pieces along the way that if you collect all of, will form a small picture that I will assume is a memory of our protagonist "Tim." Technically, you can breeze through the levels not particularly caring for any of the puzzle pieces but that seems to ruin the fun of the game as many of the pieces are the heart of the game and utilize the worlds' messed up rules.

The story itself is laid out in a sort of book format. It's an all encompassing room with books on pedestals. Each book represents a page and you, the player, moves forward onto each pedestal to go to the next page.

To be honest, I haven't finished the game yet, but I'm near the end and I've loved the platforming aspects of it. Some puzzles have a very particular timing to the platforming which is mildly irritating but none are too hard that I've simply quit, yet. I would write a longer review but I'm actually tired as I'm writing this late at night before this is actually published. I will be away for a week and return next sunday which means there will be no post next week. I hope you all have a good start to your school year (if you're starting school) and I'll see you all next week with a modified review.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Fat Princess - Review

As you can see Fat Princess is about two princesses who found a cake growing out of the ground. These two princesses then overstuffed themselves to problematic proportions. Believing it to be a curse, the king wages war on the other kingdom to secure his princess's hand in marriage which would supposedly break the curse.

A friend of mine first showed me the trailer on PSN and almost immediately I realized I had to get this game. The "main" game mode is a basic class-based capture the flag style gameplay. What makes this unique is probably the running speed of your character based on the weight of the flag.....

You spawn as a peasant, with customizable eyes, hair, facial hair, hair color and voice. As the peasant you need to pick up hats from nearby hat factories or off the corpse of a dead enemy to change job classes. There are five job classes which are fairly straight forward: worker, archer, warrior, mage, and priest. Workers are equipped with an axe to chop down trees and mine for metal. By collecting these materials, workers are then able to upgrade factories to improve job classes or build siege weapons.

All classes have an upgraded form which also gives them a second weapon. Workers are given bombs for small anti-gate/personnel AoE (area of effect) and their hat factory also drops a larger version of the bomb for anyone to pickup and throw. Archers have access to fire arrows and are given a shotgun-esqe musket rifle as a second weapon for short range attacks. Warriors are given spears which have a longer range and give them a dash attack. Mages are given an ice staff in addition to their fire staff and their hat factory now pumps out potions that turn players and enemies alike in a small area into chickens... Finally, Priests are able to turn into dark priests and steal health from enemies instead of healing allies.

There are four game modes if I remember properly. There's a capture the flag mode in which all you have to do is take the enemy princess from her throne and toss her into your dungeon. Conquest mode, in which you have to rescue your princess and have her sit on her throne while having the enemy princess in your dungeon for a certain period of time. King of the hill, where both teams have "life points" and players have to capture and hold more outposts than the other team for a certain period of time to reduce the enemy team's life points and finally deathmatch mode where there are a total number of points on a team representing the total number of lives on a team and the objective is to simply kill.

The unique (and amusing) part about Capture the flag (princess) and conquest mode is the ability to feed the princess (whether it's the enemy princess in your custody, or your own princess) cake pieces that appear all over the field. By feeding the princesses cake, they get fatter making it harder to actually carry the flag back to your base. This is where teamwork shines, because other players can help increase your carry speed by "escorting" (escorts are indicated with a heart talk bubble above their heads) you and thereby helping you get back to the castle. If I were to somehow logically justify the concept. It would be like... they're helping you carry that fat princess and occasionally letting go to use their weapons...

What really surprised me was the blood and gore in the actual game. I thought it was weird when PSN asked for me to input my birthday before seeing the trailer and later, it made sense. To put it simply: so much blood. For any hit, blood splurts out and dyes the ground for a while. Many players in a confined area = pools of blood.

The menu system is made with a bit of wit. The top menu listings are "Play with yourself, Play with Others, Bragging Rights, Twiddly Knobs." The thing that got me though was when you were playing a single player custom map and in the options, it said "25 imaginary friends."

There were some things I didn't find that great. First off would be the quick tips and the tutorial in general (rather, lack of tutorial). Running the storyline on single player helps you familiarize yourself with the game, the maps and the different game modes, but I noticed I had spent significantly more time in the first level than the rest of the campaign. I read through the in-game manual only to realize it didn't really help much as there wasn't any interactive element to help you understand the concept better.

Some of the maps are very small and seem a bit cramped in a 32 player game. The best way to see what "cramped" means is to load up the soccer mini game and watch all the AI swarm the soccer ball resulting in a chaotic mess. Other maps are more suited for more players and so the maps vary in size and players simply have to estimate a suitable amount of players.

I'm not sure whether this would be a bad thing or not, but it's very simple. Not in terms of concept but the overall game is one of those games that you just pick up and play for a little while and leave after. With so few maps, it somewhat limits game longevity. Seeing as there's a "fat downloads" option, I assume that downloadable content will arrive soon, so it must be simply a matter of time before more maps and features are introduced.

In related news. A PSP port is said to come out.

I must not make posting on sundays a habit....

I must not make posting on sundays a habit....
I must not make posting on sundays a habit....
I must not make posting on sundays a habit....
I must not make posting on sundays a habit....
I must not make posting on sundays a habit....
I must not make posting on sundays a habit....
I must not make posting on sundays a habit....
I must not make posting on sundays a habit....
I must not make posting on sundays a habit....
I must not make posting on sundays a habit....
I must not make posting on sundays a habit....
I must not make posting on sundays a habit....
I must not make posting on sundays a habit....
I must not make posting on sundays a habit....
I must not make posting on sundays a habit....
I must not make posting on sundays a habit....
I must not make posting on sundays a habit....
I must not make posting on sundays a habit....
I must not make posting on sundays a habit....
I must not make posting on sundays a habit....

damn it.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Lucky Star is an anime by Kyoto Animation with their shining star Aya Hirano as one of the protagonists.

It's about an otaku gamer by the name of Konata Izumi who goes on with her daily life along with her close friends Tsukasa and Kagami Hiiragi, and Miyuki Takara. The entire series is very slice of life-ish with the highschoolers going on with their daily lives.

That's it. There isn't anything else besides the Lucky Channel segment at the end of the episode. The entire show itself is about highschool girls going on with their lives with various references to other anime and culture. It often also makes use of the voice actors and their previous roles (the most notable one being Konata/Haruhi).

The animation is sorta clean? Backgrounds are low budget but characters themselves are noticeably clean and often detailed better. There are also segments that show an outstanding budget (it's kyoto after all).

To be honest, the entire show is sub par in terms of "story" or "plot." I haven't read the Lucky Star manga but considering how scenes are constructed with a structured build up and gag line, it's very reminiscent of a 4 panel style manga (kinda like Azumanga Daioh!).

Voice acting for the main characters is very well done and there were some surprising performances from not-so-well known voice actors. My main gripe about it is that all background characters that have 1-3 lines are all done by the same person. I get the joke, it's clever, but it's also very annoying. It's clearly obvious is one person but it makes me cringe everytime cause it's purposely poorly done. It's even worse when there are multiple people cause then it's just one guy talking to himself.....

The gem of the show in my opinion has to be the Lucky Channel. The Lucky Channel is a small segment that has direct correlation to the show (except in terms of 4th wall breakage) about an idol that goes by the name of Akira Kogami. She hosts the Lucky Channel segment with a co-host, Minoru Shiraishi. who occasionally appears in the actual show.
The genius of the segment is that Akira is clearly tired of the "idol" life and goes on to show her true colors frequently complaining about the idol life and the expectations. There are also occasional moments when the co-host is talking to the producer.

To be honest, a good portion of me liking this show is the lucky channel because it seems at this point is when the director and script writer shine. The ending themes are also quite amusing to listen to. About halfway through the series, I heard the director was switched and it's very noticeable as the entire episodes "seem" different. I'm not sure if it's because of the source material either, but I was laughing much more often in the latter half of the series.

The music is nothing to astound yourself with. It works fairly well with no real outstanding tracks.

As a final note. Lucky Star is one of the few anime where I'm not really content with some of the voice actors. Particularly those who voiced Kagami's classmates and.... Patricia Martin. They fit, but I still don't like them.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Current Status

Romeo X Juliet
Valkyria Chronicles

Disgaea 3 (still)

To do:
Second run of Persona 4 (complete all links)
Finish Stella Deus
Finish Ar Tonelico II
Disgaea 3 (I'm never gonna finish this......)
Wait for DFO Open Beta/Full release
Clean my Room
Finish Catalog for my Camp Director
Complete Kendo Club Website
Watch Higashi no Eden in preparation for the 2 Full length feature films.
Prep the second PS3 for reselling (CECHE01 Model)

Lucky Star (Didn't watch OVA)
Frekazoid (again..... though I don't think that counts....)

There's only one month left and so much to do.....
That's life.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Dungeon Fighter Online (DFO) - Review

The reason I've been away for a while is because I've been in the Dungeon Fighter Online Closed Beta for the US Nexon. I gotta say, this is a highly recommend from me.

I first heard about this from a korean friend of mine who played it for a while. He said its popularity was mainly based on PvP as it was highly balanced. So anyway, this past week has been spent beta testing straight and here's my review.

Overall (in its current state), Dungeon Fighter has the potential to be an amazing and long lasting game.

The basic story is about how there is a world known as Arad. People from other worlds in someway or another find this word that acts as a hub with no real way to get back out, but each person who enters the world has some purpose.

The artstyle for the game is really clean. Apparently, when the game first came out in Korea, it was looked down upon by other developers for using sprites, but I never understood that. Many famous fighters use sprites and many games still use sprites (Grand Chase to name one). To ridicule a game for its art seems odd. I'd understand if it was poorly done and very choppy but animation-wise, but Dungeon fighter is extremely clean. and the sprites are very nicely detailed. Let's think of it this way, for some odd reason, when one mentions the word "sprite" in reference to a game, people seem to assume it's going to look bad... like the original Wolfenstein. The thing is, fighters have used sprites for one of the longest times and it's been studied by gamers to the point where most mid-pro gamers refer to "clashing frames" referring to the actual coding of when a hit connects and the number of frames certain moves have. Odin Sphere used all handdrawn sprites and it too shows how beautiful sprites can be. To say that 3D and modeling is new gen and therefore rendering everything else obsolete makes no sense to me. One prime example would be Rainbow Six Vegas (the first one). Compare that to Gears of War and you'll notice how horrible the texturing in Vegas is. So is the modeling, I noticed that some trees were using interlaced flat low resolution textures. Even Counter-Strike Source looks better than that.... but that's enough of this tangent.

In terms of character creation, there are 5 characters (6, if you include the female gunner, and 7, if you include the new thief that's announced in the Korean version) each with their own specified job classes that branch out later on. You have a Slayer, Fighter, Gunner, and Priest. Each class is specified in amplifying one specific characteristic of the original job.

Slayers are swordsmen with a demonic arm that fuels his skills and abilities. As he gets stronger he can then branch out to Weapon Master, Soulbender, Asura, and Berserker. Depending on what players eventually choose, the classes go from extremely fast slashes of the berserker to large elemental strikes as an Asura.

Gunners obviously use guns but once they hit lvl 18, it branches off into many different directions. For example, you can have a mechanic who specializes in summoning robots to fight for him or you can be the ranger who specializes in flashy close combat melee moves combined with stylish trick shots. Then there are Launchers who take out big guns (literally) and fire gatlings, lasers and flame throwers to kill the enemy while spitfire focuses on elemental damage and specializing in focused shots.

Fighters are basically masters of hand to hand combat branching off into spiritual Nen Masters who excel at buffs and spirit attacks or Grapplers who specialize in.... grabbing and throwing. There's also Strikers and Brawlers who also are very distinct. Strikers are professional martial artists who link skills together and have some "famous" moves such as a one-inch punch or the chun-li rapid kicks whereas brawlers (or "street fighters" in other versions) use whatever tactics necessary to win (ie. sand, poison).

There are also Mages, who are generally spellcasters but can turn into Battle Mages who excel at linking skills together with combos. I feel that Mages (or Fighters) have probably the most diverse range of classes in terms of gameplay. There are elementalists, summoners, battle mages and witches each specializing in one specific thread of the cookie cutter mage types. Elementalists are the basic toss large AoE spells, Summoners summon mobs of monsters that wipe out entire dungeons, and Witches fly on broomsticks tossing pumpkin bombs and potions and changing parts of dungeon layouts...

Then there are the Priests who I find to be most interesting as they generally veer towards monks than the usual stand back and heal types. There can be Exorcists who case area of effect spells that hinder enemies or they can be monks who lay down area of effect buffs and go hand to hand with enemies.

Here's a nice playlist that showcases all the character classes (with the exception of Avenger)

The gameplay is reminiscent of old school beat em up fighters where players walk on a plane beating stuff up as they advance. It's less like Grand Chase as it isn't a platformer and more like 3D fighters (Like Tekken or Dead or Alive) where players walk along an X and Y axis and jump along the Z. Characters have to beat all the monsters in a certain room to advance to the next and to complete the dungeon, they must beat the boss at the end.

As players obtain skills, those skills can either be hotkeyed to one of 12 hotkeys or activated by inputting the command (similar to a fighter). So it's possible to call more than 12 skills at a time without ever having to bring up the skill menu. I think that this is probably one of the best systems in gameplay that's been implemented. Let's say I was surrounded and wanted to do a windmill attack but my hotkeys were filled with other skills and buffs. All I would need to do is press the key stroke command for it (down+down+X) and he would pull off the skill. I believe the PSP version of Guilty Gear tried it but its execution in gameplay was a bit lack luster.

Instead of managing stats, as a player, you need to manage skills and allocate the SP (skill points) you get properly for a good build. The thing is, players can cancel normal attacks into skills but they need to buy the ability to cancel to skills using SP. These cancels are often twice to nearly three times the cost of the skill itself meaning, that once players reach higher levels where they have to upgrade many more skills simultaneously, they need to consider which skills are important enough to get cancels.

It isn't necessarily possible to completely screw up a character (such as allocating int stats for a physical attacker as an example) but it can hinder your progress, which in turn affects your efficiency in dungeons.

Maximizing efficiency is actually very important in Dungeon Fighter Online. Unlike other dungeon crawlers (such as on consoles or MMORPGS) there's this element known as the Fatigue system. For each new room players enter, it uses up one point of a certain amount of total fatigue points and once a player runs out of fatigue points, they have to wait until the next day to be able to run dungeons. This system then promotes efficiency and opposes grinding. Players who maximize the use of their dungeon runs, and complete as many quests in the fewest amount of dungeon runs will advance significantly faster than those who, for example, do a dungeon run for each quest (or from a review I read elsewhere, did full dungeon runs and waste fatigue on unnecessary rooms). Players also receive more experience in dungeon runs if they are in a party and receive experience according to the number of members there are in the party promoting party runs rather than solo runs.

If someone dies, they're allowed to use coins, arcade style, which are allocated everyday and if everyone dies there's a countdown.

PvP is really fun. Room Masters can choose individual, team mode or elimination mode. Individual is more or less a deathmatch and team mode is team deathmatch. Elimination however is where there are two teams and one player from each team engages in a one-on-one duel survival mode style where a small bit of HP is regenerated for a victory. Elimination mode is where one tests their skills and shows off their ability to juggle, link skills, move well and combo.

The music is great. I'm always entertained by the BGMS that play as I progress dungeons and areas. It is a bit repetitive as multiple dungeons have the same music, but they're always upbeat and keep me energized.

Of course there are some quirks with Dungeon Fighter as well.
Many quests are given when a certain character reaches a certain level, and quests give enormous amounts of experience. Therefore, if there were a group of 4 friends and one wasn't able to play a day when the other 3 were, the result is that they're probably higher leveled than the last guy who had to join up with others and solo and end up gaining less experience for the same amount of fatigue. This results in a near eternal gap that doesn't close until they all hit max level. Therefore, friends that party together need to set up times to play so that their efficiency is the same with other members in the group, otherwise irreparable gaps form.

Although the PvP aspect is well done, the options for rooms are actually quite limited. For example, nearly all individual and team deathmatches involve one life (or two if a specific map is chosen). Roommasters can't change time limits on anything, and the maps are very limited (this might be referring to Dungeon Fighter as a whole). Any elimination map is set to tavern, a small flat map suited for 1v1 deathmatches with no gimmicks. Every other map has some sort of environmental hazard that make the match based more on luck than skill and unbalance matches usually favoring ranged classes. Then there's this one map that's simply stupid. It's a map known as "Motor Fan" and it has two fans on either side of the map. These fans push ALL players on a certain half of the map in one direction (it isn't even top half or bottom, of the fans blow in some area around the middle). Even if you try to run against the fan, you make EXTREMELY slow progress and usually results in a giant cluster on one side of the map. I don't know if the developers beta tested this, but it's absolutely horrible.

Like all other games, DFO also has grinding elements to it. If a party is "too efficient" what usually ends up happening is that all the available quests which are supposed to be recommended for higher levels are completed and party members are stuck dungeon running to get the next level so that they can unlock more quests.

I personally don't mind. Because the combat is so active, the grinding is less of a pain for me. If I were to give an example, I'd say the grinding in Dungeon Fighter Online would be on a similar level to the grinding in a Tales Of.... game. It involves more input from the player keeping them more interested, and so it "feels a lot less like grinding" despite it actually being what it is.

The English dub is killing me. I feel as if microtransaction companies look for people on the streets to pickup to do bad voices, similar to how Dell outsources its tech support to India. I like the Mage and Fighter's voice but that's really about it. I know what you're thinking. "But Zerreth! That means you must like about half the voices in the game! Half is a very big portion." No.... no I don't. I said I like the Mage and Fighter, but unfortunately every NPC in existence has a voice (a repeating one at that) as well each equipped with around 5 lines of earbleeding atrocities that repeat every 10 (less actually) or so seconds. Once again, I'll probably be forced to download the korean version and swap the voice files....

You know... voice actors could at least try to give some effort and the directors could at least try to match voices to the character. For example, there's this one dark elf who says "I like... knoweverything.... about magic-k." Then there are the battle sounds from the slayers who sound like they lack a soul and are reading off of cards..... (Say "hushaw" here.....)

Let me just get this straight. I'm not some purist who automatically thinks that foreign voices are amazing and that the US sucks (partially true). At the same time, I'm well aware that too many voice actors are probably just movie extras who have next to no talent in acting. I'm also aware that there are very talented english voice actors (I think Amanda Winn Lee is outstanding. I know why Yuri Lowenthal is in so many games. He's good, just over used.) The problem is, the degree of effort and skill between actors who are chosen for major and secondary roles, and those chosen for tertiary and extra roles is about the difference in height between those standing on top of the Grand Canyon and those who are at the bottom, and I think that's the major issue here.

Regardless. This is a must play from me. I can't say that casual players could get into this very well, but any sort of gamer that plays more than casual games should have at least a little fun. Of course, if you're not into fighters, that's perfectly okay but it is something that you can do for a few hours (since that's about how much the fatigue lasts) and it isn't something you have to devote vast amounts of time to be good.