Collective Review: Tomb Raider – The Last Revelation & Chronicles

           

I’m still polishing off my “turn of the century” gaming reviews and today I bring a collective look at two Tomb Raider titles. It’s been five years since I last discussed this series. Five years! I’m slacking! At that time, I did a collective review of the first three Tomb Raider games. In case you missed it, you can read it: here

The first three Tomb Raider games were released back to back in ’96, ’97 and ’98.  They were very similar in design and therefore I chose to review them together. The same is true with the next two entries in the series; Tomb Raider – The Last Revelation (AKA: Tomb Raider IV – 1999) and Tomb Raider Chronicles (AKA: Tomb Raider V – 2000).  So again, I’m going to look at these games together. I played the first three Tomb Raider games on the PC at the time they were released and loved them. However, by the time the next two entries were released my mind was on other things and I shamefully admit that I overlooked them. I’m glad to have finally had a chance to sink my teeth into these classic titles.

Before starting, let me say upfront that these games are old and they do not always play well with modern systems. In fact, to get these to run properly you may need to resort to the use of various third-party tools. There are video driver wrappers, full-screen resolution fixes, and other tricks available out there for players who wish to play these on modern systems. It is likely you will require at least some of these if you want to enjoy these on the PC. Of course, these games were also available on the Sony Playstation, so if you are able to play them native or emulated on that system you can save some stress (albeit you might be missing some of the additional content – more on that later).

First up is Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation. This is the fourth game in the original Tomb Raider series and it’s very much more of the same. In fact, I was a bit shocked at just how much like the previous games this title ended up being. The game starts with a brief tutorial showing Lara Croft as a young sixteen year old girl accompanying her mentor as they explore some ruins. Once this initial stage is over, the game returns to the modern time and focuses on Lara as she seeks to retrieve an ancient Egyptian artifact and uncovers a secret archaeological plot. Sadly, very predictable stuff. But, admittedly pretty well done – all things considered.

Even though the graphics are similar to the previous games, there are some subtle improvements that make this title a pleasure to look at. Even today, in a world of high definition textures, The Last Revelation manages to be very atmospheric. It has the classic Tomb Raider feel that made the series popular. Also, Lara now has a few new moves at her disposal to keep things feeling fresh in a gameplay model that is quickly running the risk of growing stale. For me, The Last Revelation is a great example of classic Tomb Raider. There’s plenty of content and it’s overall very well done.

As with several of the previous games in the series, it’s worth mentioning that there was a free additional level available for download shortly after the game’s release. This level is included automatically if you purchase the game from GOG. If you purchase the game elsewhere, or still have an original copy, you may need to do some scouring to find it.

Next, let’s turn our attention to the fifth game in the Tomb Raider series: Tomb Raider Chronicles. This one is a bit of an oddball…  I don’t want to ruin the ending of The Last Revelation, but the game ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. Chronicles is a direct sequel, but instead of following a continuous story like all of the games that game before it. Tomb Raider Chronicles is instead a collection of smaller scenarios that focus on a number of Lara’s previously untold adventures.

Gameplay wise, the title works well. But this entry in the series feels largely uninspired. It simply doesn’t hold the magic that the first four games in the series managed to conjure up. Still, fans of the series are likely to find it enjoyable.

In a nutshell, these two games are a welcome entries in original franchise. But the series is beginning to show signs of age. Chronicles is a strong example of what happens when developers cling to a proven model but refuse to take new risks. I’m curious to see how the next few games in the series pan out.

Difficulty: Hard –  The classic Tomb Raider titles held a reputation for being a bit on the tough side. These games certainly continue that trend. In fact, I feel they are even a little harder that the first trilogy. Personally, I find a large part of the difficulty in these games coming from the playcontrol. The PC controls are stiff and stubborn, even with a controller. The console versions are little easier to manage, but not by much. The puzzles are thoughtful and challenging, yes. But by far the main level of frustration in these games comes from the actual gameplay, at least for me.

Story: The storyline for The Last Revelation is very well done. It’s compelling and interesting and it ends with a shocker. Chronicles is a bit of a mixed bag, but it does a decent job linking up with it’s predecessor. Like with the previous games, most of the lore and story is presented through cutscenes that take place in between levels and at the beginning and end of the games.

Originality: At this point there’s nothing new to see here. Yes, there are some novel additions to the games. But adding the ability to walk on tightropes and swing on vines does not help this quickly aging recipe. The game engine is past its prime and compared to other titles of the day, the Tomb Raider series is starting to lag behind.

Soundtrack: The voice acting is fairly well done. The OST for the games vary. Overall, most of the background music is fitting but not particularly exciting. There are a few stand out tracks, however.

Fun: Hardcore Tomb Raider fans will find a good level of enjoyment in these games, especially The Last Revelation. But casual players might have a harder time getting into these. Regardless, if Tomb Raider is your cup of tea, you won’t be disappointed.

Graphics: Despite still piggybacking off the original TR engine, the graphics show some minor signs of improvement when compared with earlier games in the series. That being said, they also lag behind other games of the era. Oddly enough, TR4 seems to outshine TR5 in terms of beauty. 

Playcontrol:  For me, the playcontrol on these classic Tomb Raider titles are the biggest issue. Controls are stiff, non-responsive and punishing. Again, the saving grace here is being able to save and reload your game as needed. I’ve played these titles using both the keyboard as well as various gamepads. I can’t decide which works best… either way is riddled with issues. The console versions do feel a bit more natural, but still suffer.

Downloadable Content: YES – Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation received a free playable level that was distributed by the English newspaper The Times. The file is no longer available officially, but can be found on various fan sites free of charge.

Mature Content: Minor language, ridiculously shaped female characters.

Value:  You can snag both of these games together from GOG for $10. Buying them individually on Steam will run you about $7 each. So unless they go on sale, GOG is the way to go. Plus, GOG also happens to distribute the DLC level for Tomb Raider 4.  Even despite their faults, these games are a steal at $10.00.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – At this point, the Tomb Raider series is starting to show its age. These games are far from perfect when compared with the original trilogy – this is especially the case with Chronicles. However, for the price and the amount of content, they are well worth an addition to any gamer’s collection. The biggest thing holding these back are the persistent playcontrol issues and the lack of innovation.

Available on: PSN, GOG, Steam

 

Other Reviews In This Series:

TR – TR2 – TR3 – Last Revelation – Chronicles – Angel of Darkness

Legends – Anniversary – Underworld – Guardian of Light
Tomb Raider (2013)    –  Rise of the Tomb Raider

Review: Castlevania Chronicles

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Next up in the Castlevania series is one of the more rare and obscure Castlevania titles; The Castlevania Chronicles.

This entry is yet another remake of the original Castlevania game featuring Simon Belmont. This time, the graphics and sound have been improved yet again. This release also features added dialogue and cutscenes. As a result, many believe this is the “canon” version of the infamous “1691 battle” between Simon and Dracula.

Hosted at Universal Videogame List www.uvlist.net

Like Symphony of the Night, this game was released for the Sony Playstation. The physical version has been long out of print, but it is available digitally on the Playstation Network. Upon its release, this title received very mixed reviews. The game was criticized by many for being extremely hard, especially in later levels. However, it received praise for its wonderful storytelling and superb graphics. To be honest, it is a very strange beast. For me, it is an interesting entry in the Castlevania saga, but one that seems to have no real purpose in the long run. For someone interested in playing through the series for the lore, I suppose this would be the definitive version of the “Castlevania story”. But, I’d be hard pressed recommending Chronicles over the original Castlevania. If anything, the original game holds a spark of nostalgia, where this one feels a bit shallow in its presentation overall.

Finally, this titles is a bit shorter than most. I played thru the whole game in three sittings, so compared to the newer titles there’s not much content.

 

1476: Castlevania III — Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades, Grant, and Alucard vs. Dracula.
1576: Castlevania Adventure – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula
1591: Castlevania Adventure II – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula
1691: Castlevania, Super Castlevania, Chronicles – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula
1698: Castlevania II – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula
1792: Castlevania: Rondo of Blood — Richter Belmont and Maria Renard vs. Dracula
1797: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – Alucard vs. Dracula
1830: Castlevania: Circle of the Moon – Nathan Graves vs Dracula
1844/1852: Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness – Cornell, Henry, Reinhardt, & Carrie vs. Dracula
1897: Dracula the novel
1917: Castlevania Bloodlines – John Morris and Eric Lacarde vs. Dracula
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Difficulty: Very Difficult – Very tough. The “Nintendo hard” is back in this title with a vengeance.

Story: The scenario in this title is identical to Castlevania and Super Castlevania. Although for the first time, we have the inclusion of cutscenes. Due to the story elements, this is often considered to the be the definitive version of the Simon vs Dracula story.

Originality: This title harkens back to the earlier games in terms of design. Even the top-of-the-screen UI is a throwback. Aside from the new dialogue and visuals, there’s not much new here.

Soundtrack: CD quality audio and a lot of classic tunes from the series. But in my opinion, many of renditions are pretty poor. Overall, I was most really that impressed. But, I’ve heard worse.

Fun: It was really cool to see another flavor of the Simon story, but a lot of the fun was diminished by the high degree of difficulty. 🙁

Graphics: There are really two versions of this game. The original was released on an obscure computer system and the PSX version is technically a remake of that. The CD actually includes both versions, but I feel that the PSX version is by far superior. The graphics are much improved. I might even argue that they look better than SotN.

Playcontrol:   No real issues here. I feel that game doesn’t control quite as smooth as some of the other 2D Castlevania titles released at the same time.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3– This a decent title, but I just don’t feel very passionate about it for some reason. Perhaps because it was another rehash, I’m not sure. I just didn’t light me on fire. But I cannot deny it is a very good game in it’s own right.

Currently available on: Playstation Network

Other Reviews In This Series:

CVCV II – CV IIICVACVA II – Super CVDracula X BloodlinesSotNCV64 – CotM ChroniclesHoDAoSLoIDoSCoDPoROoECVA RebirthJudgment 

LoS Los: Mirror of FateLoS II

Review: Xenoblade Chronicles

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Taking a break from the retro reviews for a moment, I’m going to share my thoughts on a title a little more modern. Back in April, I purchased the long awaited RPG, Xenoblade Chronicles. And I am so glad I did. This game has been a breath of air.

For the last five or six years, I’ve really neglected my single-player console games and focused more on online multiplayer titles. It’s been a while since a single-player game has hooked me the way Xenoblade has. This is a classic JRPG is every sense of the word. The storyline is deep and filled with twists and turns. The characters are memorable, the locales are exotic and beautiful. The music is simply top notch. The soundtrack is one of my favorites of all time. This game has all the elements that a true RPG should strive for.

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The game takes place largely on a world known as Bionis. You see, Bionis is actually an enormous organic sleeping titan upon which people live out their daily lives. For eons, Bionis was engaged in an eternal struggle with another titanic entity, the mechanical Mechonis.

While the two titans themselves has long been dormant, the people of Bionis are constantly on defense from invasions by the robotic forces of Mechonis. It is in this world, that the game begins. The lead character, Shulk becomes entrusted with a legendary sword (The Monado). This blade is the only known weapon actually capable of harming the Mechon attackers. As the game progresses, Shulk and his friends learn more about the reason for the Mechon invasions and discover some real earth-shattering secrets behind the struggle between the two world-titans.

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This game features a vast world filled with what seems like endless content. Aside from the main storyline, there are more sidequests and optional storylines than you can shake a stick at. On top of that, your in-game actions have a real effect on the relationships between non-player characters. These “affinity levels” end up having a major impact on the game as time goes on.

I’ve never played this type of game on the Wii before. At first, I was a bit confused by the control scheme and by all the options that Xenoblade had to offer. However, after a while things started to click and when they did, I found myself in a world so immersive that I was truly impressed by the sheer masterpiece that the developers were able to put together. This is truly one of the greatest games I have ever played.

Xenoblade was one of the games responsible for the Operation Rainfall campaign. If it is any indicator of the types of games we are missing out on here in the west then for goodness sake, we have truly missed some exquisite gaming. In my opinion, part of the wonder of this title is discovering it for yourself. That being said, I shall say no more and leave this review with the following breakdown.

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Difficulty: Hard Most of the base game is fairly straightforward. However, towards the end there are a handful of boss fights that can be extremely brutal unless you take some time to really think out your strategy. Many of these fights will require shuffling around your party members and making sure they are geared to match the situation at hand. A lot of the optional content in the game, requires A LOT of patience and the will to go above and beyond the normal grind.

Story: One of the greatest stories I have experienced through a video game. The basic set up is fascinating as it is, but just wait, you will be amazed at how the plot unfolds

Originality: This is not your standard RPG. Everything about this title seems to be re-imagined from the ground up. The combat system is designed specifically for the Wii, regardless of what controller you choose to use. The affinity system provides a new take on interactions between your characters and the “fluff” NPCs that typically populate a game world.

Soundtrack: This soundtrack is a must have. It rivals anything from the Final Fantasy series. The song selection seems appropriate for the various areas in the game. Often, the music will change depending on the time of day. Songs fade in and out as you switch zones, making everything seem to fit into place. Listening back to the theme from Makna Village on my iPod, triggers memories of the exotic little Nopon village. I can almost feel the warmth of the little city in the trees 🙂

Fun: This game is a great way to pass the time. The only drawbacks are that a few of the boss fights seem to be much more difficult than called for. This will lead to some frustration for some. Also, the game is EXTREMELY big. I fear that some players will grow impatient.

Graphics: By Wii standards, this is a work of visual art. Even when compared to other consoles with more graphical power, it’s not too shabby. Despite being a bit pixelated, the developers have managed to create some truly beautiful scenes.

Playcontrol: Overall, the playcontrol is pretty much spot on. There are some frustrations with the camera, so I can’t give it a perfect score, but overall this is not a really big problem.

Overall rating (out of four stars):  4 Stars – If you like RPGs and own a Wii, this title is a must have. This is probably one of the top three RPGs I’ve played in my lifetime. Definately the best in the last 10 years or so.

Available today on: Wii