Site Updates

I’m currently undertaking the task of trying to make the site a bit more uniform. The next week or two will be slow as I am pouring through the archive of posts and making formatting corrections, etc.

Many of the original posts on this site were migrated from my old blog and there were still some nagging layout problems that I’ve always wanting to correct. I’m finally taking the time to do it.

Once this is complete, I have a several reviews to post. The GameCube/PS2 era is just around the corner!

It Came From YouTube: Cobra Kai

For my second “It Came From…” entry, I’m going to change things up a bit. I’m jumping from Netflix to YouTube. That’s right, in case you weren’t aware, there actually is a paid version of YouTube called “YouTube Red”. Until recently, there was never a lot of discussion about it as a platform because… well, there was really nothing of value to talk about. Most people knew YouTube Red only as a paid option that allows you to skip those pesky YouTube advertisements. For me personally, it was included as a bonus with my Google Play Music subscription. I certainly enjoyed the ad-free experience of YouTube Red, but I never considered it of any real value by itself. It seems like I was not alone in that sentiment…  Very few people paid YouTube Red any real attention when compared to other streaming services like Netflix of Hulu.

Finally, the day came where Google took notice of this and decided to make a push for better and exciting content. They needed something that would be instantly recognizable and that could generate buzz. Well, They found it. On May 5th, YouTube Red became the home to Cobra Kai. This ten episode continuation of the Karate Kid franchise took off like rocket and hasn’t stopped yet.

Who doesn’t love Karate Kid? As a child growing up in the 80’s, watching it was a rite of passage. I saw both the first and second movies on HBO back in the day and became an immediate fan. When my family moved to Okinawa in the late 80’s, the island was still booming from the sudden interest that Karate Kid 2 had brought to the local culture. Everywhere you looked street merchants were peddling headbands or daiko drums. So to me, the series holds a special place in my heart.

When I heard that a sequel series was coming to YouTube, I was cautiously optimistic. I loved the first two films, but the third film was a bit of a dud for me. So much so, that I never even bothered with the fourth movie. A big part of me was worried that any attempt to resurrect this series was sure to fall flat on its face. Karate Kid is a period piece. As such, trying to emulate the vibe of that film in a modern setting is likely to fail. Thankfully, the creators of Cobra Kai recognized this and avoided the traps that most writers would easily fall prey to.

Cobra Kai takes place in modern times. It’s been 30-odd years since the events of the Karate Kid films. Daniel LaRusso is now the owner of a successful auto dealership. His childhood rival Johnny Lawrence has not been so lucky. In today’s world, Johnny finds himself barely scraping by. He floats from job to job and spends most of his money on booze and child support. His life changes when he is inspired to begin teaching karate to a young man who lives next door. When Daniel discovers the Cobra Kai school of karate has been reopened, it sparks a new rivalry with Johnny.

It is easy to imagine that this series would end up doing nothing but paying homage to the original films. But the great thing about this show isn’t really the nostalgia trips (and there are some), but it is actually the quality of the story being told. Daniel is not the star of Cobra Kai, but then again neither is Johnny.  There are a number of powerful compelling characters in this show. These characters and their stories are what make Cobra Kai such a pleasure to watch. It’s like you’re watching a brand new television show, but you already know the last few decades of backstory.

Again, I can’t stress this enough, the attention to the various characters is the best thing about this series. You get to know the character of Johnny Lawrence in a whole new light. You get to experience the story of Karate Kid from his perspective. You find out that he’s not just the “bad seed” portrayed in the original film. In fact, nearly every main character in the show gets this treatment. By the time you’re halfway through the series you have no idea who’s side you’re on anymore. But you can’t wait see what happens next. All of this makes Cobra Kai some of the best television I’ve seen in a long time. It’s funny, inspiring, and worthy of your attention.

Target Audience: This is a show that actually aimed for general audiences. It’s a must-watch for fans of the original Karate Kid films, but anyone who enjoys a good story will find something to like about Cobra Kai. 80’s nerds and retro-fans will be in for the ride of their lives with this.

Mature Content: YES – Language, mature humor, sexual references, contact violence.

Number of Episodes: 10

YouTube Red Exclusive?:  YES

Score (1 out of 4): 4

 

Review: Bloodstained – Curse of the Moon

It’s been three years since Koji Igarashi (or IGA, as he tends to be called) unveiled his plans for “Sword or Whip?” – the spiritual successor for the Castlevania franchise. Since that time, the game has been given a proper name; Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. The game itself is still in development with a release date scheduled for later this year. So, to hold players over, IGA has released a small spin-off title called Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon.  

As many know, Bloodstained is a game born from the ashes of the Castlevania series. For many years, IGA was in charge of the franchise while he was employed at Konami.  Ritual of the Night is viewed by many to be the modern continuation of the gothic-horror/platformer genre.  So if RotN is the future, what is CotM? This amazing little game is essentially a retro-clone. It’s presented in the classic 8-bit style that so many Castlevania fans will be familiar with. And yes, it serves as a prequel to the upcoming Ritual of the Night. As such, it is a delightful nod to the old-school roots that serve as the foundation for what IGA is about unveil.

The storyline for this title is surprisingly well done and it sets up the events leading into Ritual of the Night.  In a nutshell, the story goes like this: In the 18th century, science is on the verge of overtaking the long-practiced arts of magic and alchemy. In attempt to maintain their grip in the modern world, a group of alchemists conduct experiments on innocent people, implanting dark crystals into their bodies in hopes of summoning a demon. The experiment is successful, but instead of controlling the entity, the demon breaks free of the alchemists’ control and opens a portal to hell itself. Monsters and demons pour from the portal and overtake the countryside. Enter hero: Zangetsu – a blade-wielding demon-hunter. His only goal is to hunt down and destroy the source of the demonic infestation. During his journey he encounters the following other adventurers:

Miriam: A young girl who was taken as a child by a mad alchemist. Subject to the experiments mentioned above, her body was fused with cursed crystals – giving her demonic powers. Freed by Zangetsu, she seeks to hunt down the demonic entities with her enchanted whip.

Alfred: One of the alchemists responsible for unleashing the demonic threat. Fueled by his search for an ancient text, he will let nothing stand his way, be it human or demon.

Gebel:  Also a victim of the alchemist’s experiments, Gebel somehow managed to survive the ritual. However, his body continues to slowly be consumed by demonic energy. He seeks revenge against humanity by embracing the darkness that now consumes him.

When the game starts, players are in control of Zangetsu. As they continue to clear levels in the game, they will unlock the other playable characters. The player can switch between characters on the fly. Each character offers a slightly different style of play, with benefits and drawbacks of their own.

The game itself is VERY reminiscent of the NES-era Castlevania games, Castlevania III especially. The graphics, sound, level design, and overall presentation make this feel like a long-lost entry in that series. Everything that there was to love in those games can be found here, but with some more modern concepts thrown in as well. This makes Curse of the Moon feel like an evolution of those retro games instead of just a carbon-copy clone.

The game itself offers two difficulty levels from the start. Casual Mode offers unlimited lives and disables the knock-back that is experienced when a player takes damage. The Veteran Mode provides a more retro experience. Lives are finite and losing them all will result in players having to redo the entire level over again. Regardless of the mode selected, the game is not quite as difficult as the original Castlevania titles it is based on.

Upon completion of the game, Nightmare Mode is unlocked. This allows players to replay the game from the beginning with the additional characters already available. There’s also a Boss Rush mode that can be unlocked as well.

In the end, Curse of the Moon is both an excellent tip-of-the-hat to the games of yesteryear, as well as a clever set up for things to come. Everything about the game from the graphics to the enemy design is there to remind you of those classic Castlevania titles. But other aspects such as the depth of the storytelling to the well-designed boss battles, give players a hint that Bloodstained is going to be so much more.

I was blown away by this game. My level of excitement for Bloodstained has increased tenfold. This is a game worth a look.

Difficulty: Medium –  When stacked against the platformers of the past, Curse of the Moon is considerably easier. Even in Veteran Mode, this game is nowhere near as difficult as say, Castlevania or Castlevania III. The boss fights are probably the hardest part of the game, but the battles all contain patterns that are easy enough to learn and master. This is true even for the secret hidden boss available in the game’s alternate mode.

Story: The backstory for this game is surprisingly well done. It is presented at the start of the game and through readable in-game dialogue. This whole title actually seems to serve as a set up for the upcoming Ritual of the Night. I’m glad to see there’s actually some interesting lore for this new franchise. I’d hate for RotN to end up as nothing more than a poorly constructed style-clone.

Originality: Despite paying homage to retro Castlevania titles, Curse of the Moon manages to somehow feel fresh and exciting.  Maybe it’s because it’s been a while since we’ve seen anything like this. I’m not sure. But I do know that playing this game didn’t feel like a tired slog through memory lane. Instead, it felt like the start of something new and exciting.

Soundtrack: Classic retro bit-tunes. The soundtrack really took me back to the days of my youth. Most of the music was catchy and appropriate, but it honestly doesn’t hold a candle to some of the great jams we were treated with in the old Castlevania games.

Fun: This game took me by surprise. I was expecting to simply get a nostalgic smile or two out of it. But, instead I was floored by how good it was. The intricacies of the characters and the polish of the game design are simply brilliant. This little downloadable title is way better than it has any right to be.

Graphics: This game was designed to mimic the classic 8-bit NES era. With that in mind, it does a perfect job. By today’s standards it is not going to blow anyone away. But then again, it isn’t supposed to.

Playcontrol: If there’s any major improvement over the original Castlevania titles, it is this. The controls are responsive and accurate. No sluggish movement, no lag, No complaints whatsoever.

Downloadable Content: No.

Mature Content: YES – Religious and paranormal themes.

Value:  Backers of the Bloodstained Kickstarter can download this game for free on the platform of their choice. All others can purchase it for $9.99. In my opinion, this is a more than fair price for a game of this quality.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Despite being a retro-inspired game, Curse of the Moon is a quality product. I love the way the developers used the 8-bit era to create a prequel for their upcoming title. It let’s the players know the source of the developer’s inspiration, while setting the stage for the next era. This title is a love letter to older gamers like myself, but I really feel that even younger players who grew up with their PS3’s and Xbox 360’s will find enjoyment in this title.

Available on: Steam, Switch, PS4, Xbox One, 3DS

DLC Review: Final Fantasy XV – Royal Edition

Believe it or not, Square Enix is still cranking out DLC for Final Fantasy XV. So far, we’ve been treated to two special events, a multiplayer add-on, and four character-based episodes. The most recent addition to the game comes in the form of the “Royal Pack”. This DLC pack is available to owners of the existing game, but is not included in the price of the season pass. So what is the Royal Pack? Well, it basically unlocks the “Royal Edition” content for the vanilla game.

That’s right, coinciding with the PC release, a new version of Final Fantasy XV was also released for consoles. This “Royal Edition” includes all of the previously released DLC as well as some new content integrated into the main game. To get specific, new quests, trophies, boss fights, and quality of life fixes.

The Royal Edition of Final Fantasy XV sells new for $50.00. The Royal Pack upgrade is available to owners of the original game for $14.99. If you’re just now diving into FFXV for the first time, the Royal Edition is a no-brainer. But existing players may be a bit more apprehensive… In my opinion, the content included in the Royal Pack should be free of charge. First of all, players who bought the game at release spent $60.00. Then, $25.00 for the season pass. (That’s a total of $85.00.) Now, they are asked to drop another $15.00 on content that arguably should have been in the game to begin with… that’s a total of $100.00 over time for what you can get now, all in one package for $50.00. Shameful.

I know, that is just the way things work these days. You always pay premium price for a game on day one. But in this case, it feels a bit like gouging. But, I admit, I dropped the $15.00 so I can’t complain too much.

So, how is the content? Well, it’s nice. But there’s nothing mindblowing. There’s a quest that enables another upgrade to the Regalia. A quest that upgrades the functionality to the Armiger weapon skill. Another quest that allows our heroes to sail around on a boat. In fact, there are lots of quests. The three mentioned above are probably the most interesting. The rest end up feeling like filler. And in a game that’s now closing in on two years old, it’s difficult to find motivation to sit down and just grind away at filler content. This new content would seem more at home if you were playing the game for the first time, it certainly fits better when viewed in that way. But loading up your endgame save file just to go hunt down “datalogs”? That feels a bit pointless.

One other major change the Royal Edition makes to the game is a revamp of Chapter 14. This is actually quite a welcome change. What was originally a breeze-through chapter of the game is now a full fledged dungeon. It takes plot elements from other DLC releases and provide more lore and backstory to the main game. There’s even a couple of new boss fights added. Namely, Cerberus and Omega. (The later being the new optional mega-boss). The final encounter of the game also now includes some extra mini-bosses that are geared towards the companions. Very good stuff.

These new fights are welcome. But the Omega battle seems a bit glitchy. It took me several days to finally defeat this boss due to erratic game behavior. Towards the last half of the battle, this boss can teleport around the arena. On more than one occasion, Omega would vanish and not respawn. As a result, I would be unable to complete the battle. This is especially bad because this battle can often take 1-2 hours to complete through normal methods. Unacceptable.

Overall, the Royal Pack content is certainly a welcome addition to the game. I personally had no qualms with the game’s content at release, but this new content does help flesh-out the game a bit more. It really puts the cherry on top so to speak. My only gripe is that I feel this type of stuff should be free.

Overall Impression:  Welcome addition to the game. Great changes to Chapter 14. But other content feels a bit weak.

Value: Existing players will have to pay $15.00 for what should be a free patch. Affordable if you’re a big fan of the game and want to stay up to date. New players would do better to purchase the Royal Edition for the complete package.

Main Game:  Final Fantasy XV Review

Rift Prime – Update

It has been sixty days since the launch of RIFT Prime. As promised, I’m here with an update and to share my thoughts on the state of this “progression server” experiment.

Since my last post, not a whole lot has changed in the world of RIFT Prime. Trion Worlds really seems to be taking the progression aspect at a fairly casual pace. Since the launch of the Prime server in March, a few expert dungeons, slivers and raids have been added. The “Battle for Port Scion” PVP area is now accessible, and some additional quests are now playable. RIFT’s first free expansion area “Ember Isle” is still inaccessible at the time of this writing.

The rollout of content seems just a tad slower than what I expected. Considering that the Prime experiment is supposed to last for one year, we are now two months in and have yet to see any major new additions. At this point, the majority of the playerbase for Prime has reached level 50. It won’t be long before most players grow tired of the same endgame raids and begin turning their attention elsewhere. I have to admit, I’ve personally lost nearly all interest in the game. Few of the players I met back in March are still logging in regularly and rarely will a glance at the public chat reveal anything other than trolling or mindless guild recruiting.

I think the thing I found most disappointing was the lack of World Events. Particularly some of the one-time events like “River of Souls”. Sure, I participated in these on the live version of RIFT back in the day, but I hoping for a chance to see them again. Trion has now come forward and admitted that it would take too much effort to reactivate these types of events with the modern version of the game. Disappointing.

For me, this version of RIFT is interesting, but it does not live up to the hype. For an example of a progression server done right, I’d suggest Trion Worlds take a peek at the latest Everquest vanilla server. The pacing and the content seem much more in line with what players are craving. I only hope that Blizzard is watching too. Their World of Warcraft progression-server is just around the corner and I’d hate to see it grind to an early death by a delayed roll-out schedule.

So for now, I’m going to officially end my RIFT Prime participation once my initial 90 days subscription ends. I was hoping to recapture the magic that once hooked me on this game. But in the end it seemed to fizzle out.

 

Review: Wario Land 3

It is so easy to get hung up on RPGs and other complex games that it’s possible to forget about some of the more simpler titles out there. I recently wound up my review for Xenogears, a game that took me several months to complete. By the time I was finished, I knew I wanted my next playthrough to be something a little more relaxed. So I took a look at my backlog and as soon as I saw Wario Land 3 on the list, I knew that would be my next game.

I reviewed Wario Land 2 nearly two years ago. So, it has been a while since I stepped into the quirky world of Wario. Wario Land 3 is a game that I never played in my younger days. It debuted on the Game Boy Color back in 2000. And, like so many titles of the era, it was released during a time in my life where gaming was not a priority for me. As a result, it flew under my radar at the time.

Like most titles in the series, the storyline here is fairly simple. Wario is going for a casual cruise in his cropduster when the engine fails and he crash lands on a mysterious island. After exploring the island for a bit, he comes upon a cave that contains a strange music box. As he gazes at the music box, he suddenly finds himself trapped inside of it! As it turns out, there’s a whole little world inside the cursed box and Wario is not alone; the maker of the box is also trapped inside with him. To escape, Wario must search the land inside this little prison for five other magical music boxes. Once they have all been collected, he will be able to return home with any riches he is also able to uncover along the way. – Yep… sounds like a typical Wario game.

If you’ve ever played either of the first two Wario Land titles, then you pretty much know what to expect in terms of gameplay. Just like Wario Land 2, Wario is invincible in this game as well. He cannot be killed by either his environment or by enemies. However, that is not to say that enemy attacks do not affect him. When attacked by some monsters, Wario will be inflicted with various effects. For example, if he comes in contact with a fire-based attack, he will burst into flames like a torch and run around wildly. If stung by a bee, he will swell up and float through the air, etc. These status ailments, while annoying at times, are actually the key to playing the game. Players will learn how to use them to navigate the levels and solve puzzles. For example, getting stung will enable him to float to an otherwise unreachable platform. This is the essentially the same mechanic that was introduced in Wario Land 2, but it is expanded and a little polished in this outing.

This time, each level contains a number of keys. As Wario collects keys of a certain color, he can use them to unlock the corresponding chest that’s also hidden in the level. Chests contain items that either unlock new areas on the overworld map or give Wario new abilities. Once a chest is unlocked, the level is over. This means that Wario will need to move back and forth between worlds, upgrading his abilities and revisiting previously played levels in order to reach previously inaccessible areas. It is actually quite clever. It is not necessary for players to unlock every chest to complete the game, but completionists will certainly find the extra challenge welcome. This design actually makes for quite a bit of a content. I took me just under nine hours to conquer this title. That’s a quite a bit of time for a handheld platformer.

One interesting aspect to this game are the inclusion of the “mini-golf” levels. Occasionally, progress through the game is halted by a roadbloack. These roadblocks are removed by participating in (and winning) a series of golf-based mini-games. To be honest, this mini-game is largely pointless and occasionally annoying. But somehow they seem to fit the weird and quirkiness of the rest of the game. Leave it to Nintendo to be both annoying and entertaining at the same time…

The Wario Land series shows that developers of platform games do not have to be afraid to deviate from the standard formula. This title is a great example of how to both build off an proven method, but still add new ideas and concepts into the mix. For me, I find these games to be a blast. The puzzles make you think outside of the box. And even though Wario cannot die, the game is still challenging in its own way.

Difficulty: Hard –  When you hear that this is a platform title in which the player cannot die, you might think that makes for a pretty easy experience. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In a way, Wario’s invincibility only makes certain parts of the game even more frustrating. You work hard to scale your way to the very top of a level, your goal in sight – only be to zapped by some random enemy and sent tumbling back down to the very start… Infuriating. To be honest, the main scenario of the game is probably on par with most other Nintendo-era platform titles. But players who want to get the most out of the game and collect all 100 treasures will be in for quite a challenge.

Story: Games like these are not very story-centric. Nor do they need to be. The gameplay is the focus here. But, this title includes a cute little set up with an interesting twist at the end. The background story here is on par with what is found in other platform games.

Originality: Somehow Nintendo has again managed to keep this game from feeling stale. Non-linear, replayable levels with unlockable areas help keep this platformer title feeling like something new. Quite a feat.

Soundtrack: Silly/oddly appropriate music. But nothing spectacular. Honestly, probably the least interesting part of the game.

Fun: This game ended up providing me with much more entertainment than I expected. Just when I thought I knew what expect from this genre, Nintendo tosses in something to keep things fun and fresh. The difficulty felt a little extreme at times and I can imagine that some younger players would get a bit turned off by it. But considering Wario cannot die, it is only a matter of willpower.

Graphics: This game will look pretty dated by today’s standards. But at the time, it featured top-tier visuals for a mobile game. This title is a prime example of what the Game Boy Color was capable of.

Playcontrol: The controls are responsive and accurate. No complaints whatsoever.

Downloadable Content: No.

Mature Content: None.

Value:  Original copies of this game typically go on Ebay for $20 or less. But, the game is available digitally through the 3DS eShop for only $4.99. At that price, you shouldn’t pass it up. There’s hours of content in the game. Plus, players willing to collect every treasure are treated with a special unlockable “time attack mode” that only makes the game even more replayable.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Ridiculously good. This game is better than it has any right to be. Despite not being a title you hear about often, Wario Land 3 is packed full of fun. It’s extremely well put together and even almost twenty years later, it still holds up. I highly recommend this to anyone with a 3DS that enjoys retro games.

Available on: 3DS Virtual Console

 

Other Reviews In This Series:

SMB   –   SMB Lost Levels  –  SMB 2  –  SMB 3  –  SM World – SM World 2-  SM Land  –  SM Land 2  – SM Land 3 –  Mario 64 – Mario Sunshine – New SMB – Galaxy – Galaxy 2 – New SMB Wii – Mario 3D Land – New SMB 2 – New SMB U – SMB 3D World

Paper Mario – Thousand Year Door – Super Paper Mario – Sticker Star

Wario Land 2 – Wario Land 3 – Wario Land 4 – Master of Disguise – Wario Land Shake It

Luigi’s Mansion – Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon – Super Princess Peach

Review: Xenogears

This review has been a long time coming. Xenogears is considered by many to be one of the greatest RPGs of all time. Despite this, it is a game that I never had the chance to sit down with until now. I was a big fan of the Xenoblade Chronicles on the Wii when it came out a few years back. So I was really excited to see what the earliest game in the “Xeno” franchise was all about. I started this title at the the first of the year and I expected to be done with it sometime around late March. But, boy was I wrong about that. I was anticipating this game to contain somewhere between 40-60 hours of playtime (like most other RPGs of the era). Instead, I ended up spending a little over ninety hours on this monster. Which is really mind-blowing considering the last half of the game was rushed for release and large portions of content were cut from the title. (More on this later).

So what is Xenogears exactly? Xenogears is the brainchild of Japanese game developer Tetsuya Takahashi, an employee of Squaresoft. It was originally pitched as a contender for the Final Fantasy series. When rejected, it ended up becoming something else entirely. Much time was spent on the lore and storyline for this game. The story of Xenogears was originally intended to be the fifth out of six chapters in what would be part of a vast story-arc. The idea was to tell the complete tale through various media; manga, anime, and of course, games. This grand vision never materialized, however. As such, Xenogears has remained the only chapter of this story to be told. Japanese fans were eventually treated to a special artbook called Xenogears Perfect Works. This book contained several pages outlining all six chapters of the intended original saga. While it is certainly a shame that fans may never see an official Xenogears anime, or read the untold tales in the pages of a comic book, the game itself does contain several anime-style cutscenes that provide a taste of what might have been.

The story of Xenogears focuses on the character of Fei Fong Wong. A young amnesiac who was brought to a remote village as a child by a mysterious man. Fei has grown up living a simple life, completely unaware of his origins. One day, Fei’s village becomes caught in the crossfire between two warring nations. During the attack, Fei climbs into a Gear, (one of the giant robots used in the war) in attempt to defend his village. Mysteriously, he finds that he has the innate ability to pilot the machine. But in the end, his actions in the Gear result in further damage to village. Disgraced and banished from his home, Fei and his mentor Citan leave the village together. From there, they encounter one of the soldiers involved in the attack, a woman named Elly. Before long, Fei learns that the attack on his village was no coincidence… He was the real target. This revelation prompts him to seek out the answers to his mysterious origins. Over the span of the game’s storyline, not only will Fei learn about his true nature, but will find himself as a major player in a war for the very fate of mankind. The secrets of human origin, as well as the true nature of divinity all play a part in this fantastic tale.

To say the storyline for Xenogears is epic would be an understatement. While many JRPGs often blur the lines between fantasy and sci-fi, this game took things to the next level. The lore of this game perfectly integrates high technology and religious mythology in a way that had not yet been explored in gaming. To make things even more interesting, it borrows a number of themes and terms found in Judaeo-Christian theology, giving the lore behind the game a familiar tone. In fact, this served as a strong point of controversy at the time the game was released. Personally, I found the plot to be very deep and philosophical. I was delighted by thought put into it.

When it comes to gameplay, Xenogears will be familiar territory for longtime RPG fans. It plays like most classic SNES-era RPGs, with an overhead view and menu-driven system. Unlike many of those classic games, it is also rendered in 2.5-D, meaning that even though it’s presented from the bird’s-eye-view, the camera can be rotated 360-degrees to allow viewing at all angles. This took me a little getting used to at first, and it’s important to remember, as sometimes chests and important environmental objects may not be visible until the camera is rotated. Occasionally, I found this to be quite an annoyance. My only other major gripe with the game comes in the form of UI delay when bringing up the menu and especially with save file management. This title seems to suffer from some annoying lag.

When it comes to combat, Xenogears builds from the classic Active Time Battle structure that most RPG players are already familiar with. But it actually manages to evolve that model in a meaningful way. Like with most games of this type, players can elect to execute a melee attack, select skills/magic, or  use an item. There’s also options to defend or attempt to flee battle. If a player uses a physical attack, they can then chose between a light, medium or strong attack. The more powerful the attack, the less accurate the attack will be. If successfully landed, the player earns an Action Point. Action Points can then be spent on special moves called “Death Blows”, players can also bank up their Action Points to chain various Death Blows together for even more damage.

Aside from hand-to-hand combat, players will often do battle while piloting Gears (mechs). Gear combat is very similar to standard combat, but instead of attack points a Gear’s “Attack Level” increases as they continue to damage an enemy. Higher Attack Levels mean stronger Death Blows, etc.

All in all, I found the battle system to be very well done. It was just different enough from what had been seen thus far to require a little getting used to. Other RPGs of the era tried tinkering with the standard ATB combat formula and failed. Xenogears is one of the few that was able to succeed.

Combat aside, the game plays very much like any other JRPG. There’s open world exploration, dungeons, boss fights, etc. The game is separated into two discs, with the majority of the gameplay being found on Disc 1. By the time I reached the second disc, I was already about sixty hours into the game. The contents of the second disc are vastly different from that of the first. At this point, the game shifts from standard RPG-play, to being more narrative driven. Instead of actually playing through storyline at this point, the game provides you with a summary of events accompanied by still pictures and cutscenes. This ongoing narrative is broken up occasionally with prompts to save and short dungeons. There’s a number of successive boss fights tossed in the mix as well. It certainly has an unusual feel when compared with the first half of the game.

It has since become known that the pacing of the second disc occurred due to time constraints put on the development team.  In order to meet the release date deadline, they were forced to cut hours of playable content from the game itself. This led to them having to stitch what had been developed together with bits of exposition and pre-rendered cutscenes. This is certainly a shame, as I can only imagine just how epic in scale this game might have been if it were released according to plan. But honestly, having all of this extra content would have probably doubled the length of what was already a long game. So, I’m in no way saying players should feel ripped off. There’s still tons of content in this title. But the patchwork that is the second disc does end up making the game feel rushed and disjointed to an extent.

Flaws and all, Xenogears is an amazing game. It certainly earned its status as one of the greatest RPGs of all time. That being said, the game is not perfect. Camera issues and UI lag are present, and don’t get me started on the awkwardness of the second half. All that aside, it still shines. This is without a doubt a must play for fans of the JRPG genre. If any game deserves a modern remake, Xenogears should certainly be a contender.

Difficulty: Medium –  As far as RPGs go, Xenogears is standard fare when it comes to difficulty. Most random encounters and boss fights are balanced pretty well. Any player who hasn’t simply rushed their way through the game should encounter only a moderate challenge. Players who are willing to take their time to grind and/or do sidequests should have no issue.  Many of the bosses often have mechanics that can be exploited either through action or by equipping characters/Gears with certain items.

Story: This is where the game shines. The depth and richness of the storyline is unrivaled even to this day. In fact, when considering how unfinished the game feels at times, it is almost a shame that a tale of this scope was told via game that feels so incomplete at times. It is a story that certainly deserved better. Deep, dark, and powerful.

Originality: By 1998 the formula for JRPGs had been well established. Xenogears manages to keep things fresh by providing a unique setting, re-envisioned combat, and a bold storyline. Every time the game started to feel like something I had seen before I was quickly proven wrong. Amazing work by Squaresoft.

Soundtrack: This is probably the second best part of the game. The soundtrack and score are nothing short of breathtaking. My only complaint is that there wasn’t more. For a game as long as Xenogears, the soundtrack seems to be somewhat lacking in content. Lots of music in the game is reused in places where a new theme seems appropriate. Again, perhaps it was due to budgeting or time constraints, but I feel like the soundtrack should be more diverse. That is a bit of a shame. But when judging the soundtrack we were given, it is hard to find a single thing to dislike.

Fun: This is a game that took me by surprise. At this point in my gaming career, I really thought I had seen everything there was to see when it comes to RPGs. Xenogears proved to me that a good developer can always manage to surprise you. I had a blast with this game. I went in knowing nothing at all about the game itself, and what a ride it was.

Graphics: At time of its release, Xenogears looked as good as a game could. It featured 16-bit style sprite, but in a semi-3D environment.  Today, the game does show its age. But it is still a pleasure to view.

Playcontrol: To claim Xenogears is flawless would be difficult. If any part of the game needs improvement it would be the play control. Laggy UI and quirky camera controls are a major issue at times. On top of that, several parts of the game actually include platforming puzzles – for example, climbing a building or a mountain. This requires players to run and jump from spot to spot. One wrong move and you have to start over. It can be extremely frustrating at times. Especially since the game doesn’t feel like it was designed with this type of play in mind. This, combined with a dicey camera makes for some rage-worthy moments.

Downloadable Content: No.

Mature Content: YES. Minor language, blasphemous themes.

Value:  Xenogears is available digitally on the Playstation Network for $9.99. At this price the game is a no-brainer. Used physical copes can range anywhere from $20-$100 on ebay depending on the quality. If you’re a collector, I’d be comfortable paying up to $50.00 for a game like this. It is worth every penny.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Even with some obvious flaws, Xenogears manages to take a top rating. It has been a while since I had such a good experience with an older game. Just when I thought I had seen everything, Xenogears popped up to remind me that there’s always something new to discover. Despite being twenty years old, the bold direction of this game still manages to hold up and feel new. If you’re a fan of JRPGs, this is a must-play.

Available on: PSN

 

Nerd Fuel: Tim Horton’s – Original Blend

It has been a few months since I made a Nerd Fuel post. To be honest, my post frequency on the site has been down considerably since the start of the year. I’ve been spending every last free minute grinding away at Xenogears. (A behemoth of a game.) I finally completed the title today (a review will be coming shortly), and I don’t think it would have been possible without the help of my good friend caffeine. As always, my quest for the perfect cup of joe continues. This time, I found myself back in the “donut shop” with a box of Tim Horton’s Original Blend.

So far on this site I’ve reviewed a number of “Donut-Shop”-style coffee. But Tim Horton’s is one variety that has eluded me until now. Some people swear by it. But for those American readers who, like me, live in the southern part of the country – the name Tim Horton’s may not ring any bells. It is not a brand that has a foothold in this part of country. But up north and especially in Canada, it is a household name. Tim Horton’s is a popular restaurant/bakery and, as you might have guessed, they are also famous for their coffee. I’ve personally never been to a Tim Horton’s so when this box arrived in the mail I was very eager to see if it lived up to the hype.

I went in expecting a pretty mild, run-of-the-mill flavor. That is exactly what I got. In both aroma and in taste, there was absolutely nothing spectacular about this cup. It is very mild and smooth and like most “donut shop” offerings, it is designed to please nearly everyone. It is enjoyable, but not particularly compelling. When compared against other coffees of the same type, I feel like it beats Dunkin Donut on richness. But it doesn’t hold a candle to Krispy Kreme or The Coffee People’s “Donut Shop”. That being said, I can easily imagine it to be the favorite of many coffee-drinkers. With this type of brew, a lot of it boils down to region. If you grew up on the stuff, you’re likely to favor it over a competitor. But in reality, if we are being honest with ourselves, they are all pretty much the same (save for some minor nuances).  For me personally, “Donut Shop” is still the reigning champion in the category.

Score: 3 out of 4

Would Purchase again?: Maybe. It’s not bad. It should be acceptable to nearly anyone, but there are some better options out there.

Star Wars: From A Certain Point of View – Various Authors

It has been a while since I posted a review of a Star Wars novel. In truth, I think I suffered from a bit of Star Wars burnout leading up to the release of The Last Jedi. I indulged on so many different books and other Star Wars media at the time, that once the movie was released I found myself needing a break. Now, a few months later, we are on the heels of Solo: A Star Wars Story, so I’m getting back into my groove. This time, I’m taking a moment to talk about a rather interesting entry in the new Star Wars canon; From a Certain Point of View.

This book is a collection of short stories that actually tell the tale of A New Hope, but from the viewpoint of various characters. (Hence the name of the collection).

As expected with any short story collection, some of the tales included in the volume are better than others.  It starts off strong with a story told from the perspective of Captain Antilles. This story does a wonderful job of bridging the gap between Rogue One and  A New Hope and serves as a perfect launching point for the book. But it is then followed by a slightly dull, but still interesting, tale about the Stormtrooper who stunned Princess Leia.

This ebb and flow continues for the first half of the novel. But then everything comes to a grinding halt when we reach the “cantina scene” from the movie. At this point, we are dished out what (felt to me) like too many random short  stories about the various  aliens found in the Mos Eisley Cantina. This portion of the book actually reminded me a lot of the old Expanded Universe novel Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina. In fact, several of the stories here offer retcons to some of the tales told in that old collection.

The last half of the novel is where things really pick up. There are some really insightful stories about Obi  Wan, Yoda, and even an interesting poem about Emperor Palpatine. It all makes for a very eclectic, if not refreshing book.

All in all, I found this collection to be a mixed bag. Some of the stories are very well done and interesting. Others almost read like satire and feel like throwaway content. Without sounding too controversial, I was also slightly irritated to see more of what seemed like “political shoehorning” in this collection. One story in particular reveals a homosexual relationship between a Stormtrooper and an Imperial officer… Ok. But, why is that important? I feel like if given some context or an important plot point this would make more sense. But to me, it just felt like it was tacked-on for the sake of having something LGBT friendly in the book. But, whatever – Inclusion, I guess.

Despite some minor flaws, I found this book to an overall worth addition to the new Star Wars canon. I enjoyed the “point-of-view” aspect to it, and I hope see more novels follow the same format.

Story: Mixed. Some of the short stories collected here are masterfully done. Others, not so much.

Recommended:  For all Star Wars fans.