Review: Final Fantasy Tactics – The War of the Lions

This is a review that has been a long time coming. Occasionally, I get emails or twitter messages asking me to review or discuss a particular game. Of all the messages I get, by far the most requested retro review is for Final Fantasy Tactics. As a lifelong fan of the Final Fantasy series, I’m ashamed to admit that Tactics is a game that I’ve actually never set aside the time to play. First of all, it came out during a time in my life when my mind was on things other than gaming. Also, it’s a not a traditional RPG like most other Final Fantasy titles. Instead, it is a more of a tactical/strategy game with lots of RPG influence. In case you’re not aware – I generally do not enjoy tactical style games. In my opinion, most games of this type tend to progress just a little too slowly for my tastes. With this in mind, I think I’ve always been hesitant to dive into Final Fantasy Tactics. But, that time is over.

Before we get into the details, I want to start by mentioning that there are two versions of the game. The original release is simply known as “Final Fantasy Tactics“. It was released on the Sony Playstation in 1998 and is also currently available for purchase on the Playstation Network for PS3 and PSP users. The game was later re-released in 2007 for the Playstation Portable under the name “Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions“. This is considered to be the definitive version of the game. It includes graphical enhancements, new cutscenes, an improved translation, a more balanced difficulty, as well as the inclusion of two new playable jobs (more on that later). This remake is also available on both iOS and Android devices. For the sake of this review, I played the PSP version of War of the Lions.

It’s also worth mentioning that Final Fantasy Tactics is the first FF game to be set in the world of Ivalice. When Final Fantasy XII was released, that game brought the world of Ivalice into the main series – it has since become the favorite setting for many fans.

The story of the game is absolutely magical. It’s even been compared to the works Shakespeare by some. Yes. It’s that good. The game takes place during an age when the world is recovering from the aftermath of a 50-year war. The story focuses on a young knight-errant named Ramza, an unsung hero of history. Despite being a sellsword, Ramza is from a noble bloodline. Ivalice is a world where heritage and caste is held in the highest regard.  As the game progresses, Ramza comes to learn of a nefarious plot by the Church in which his family serves. As a result, he must choose between honoring his family or placing his trust in an old friend. Of course, the actual plot is much more intricate than can be summarized into a simple paragraph. In fact, I daresay it might be the most well written storyline in the entire Final Fantasy series.

Despite having similar themes and a rich story, Final Fantasy Tactics is very different from other games in the main series. Instead of being an open-world game with short turn-based combat, the game is essentially a series of RTS overhead battles. During combat, the player controls a team of various units (characters) on a grid-like battlefield. You move your units into position, then execute attacks or abilities. Once you’ve defeated all of the enemies on the grid, the battle is over. Generally speaking, the story scenes take place between battles and advance the plot.

Units earns experience and job points during battle. As you might expect, experience points level your units up. Job points are used to unlock new job-specific skills for your units. Each unit can be equipped with weapons and equipment and even abilities, many of which are earned by leveling various jobs. At the beginning of the game, only a handful of jobs are available. However, new and more advanced jobs will soon become obtainable as your characters continue to level and grow.

The job system found in Final Fantasy Tactics is similar to what was seen in Final Fantasy III and V. However, the representation in Tactics is widely considered to be the best implementation of the system thus far. Many of the jobs introduced in this game have since been seen in other titles in the series, namely Final Fantasy XI and XIV. Mastery of the Job System is really the key to success in the game. On it’s surface, Final Fantasy Tactics appears to be brutally difficult. In fact, the first few battles players will encounter can often be some of the hardest and most punishing. But, if you’re willing to spend the time to understand the game’s mechanics, it’s quite possible to exploit the job system to your advantage. In this way, the game can actually become ridiculously unbalanced and easy. Certain job and equipment combinations can essentially render your party nearly invulnerable.

Even though the game suffers from balance issues, it’s hard to claim that FFT is anything short of an absolute masterpiece. That being said, I  have to admit that it is not a game that I could really get into. It’s not that it’s a bad game, it’s just not the type of game that I personally find enjoyable. I am just not a strategy/tactical game fan. While I loved the story and the mechanics of the game, the combat was just too slow-paced and lengthy for me. In most Final Fantasy titles, combat is resolved relatively quickly – with the exception of boss battles. But in FFT, most battles take anywhere from 10-15 minutes on average. You can to watch each unit move into place in real time. Then you face them a certain direction, then execute an action, etc. Then, if you mess up and lose a character you will likely want to reload your save and try again. And there are A LOT of battles in the game, even more so if you intend to grind out levels and job points. My other complaint has to do with the grid-based battle system. I found having to rotate the 3D grid just to get a good vantage point to be overly cumbersome. But that’s a flaw that’s easy enough to ignore on it’s own. I just don’t care for this type of game.  It’s not the game…. it’s me. I can admit that. For those that love tactical games like this, FFT is by far the crown jewel.

Even with my dislike for this type of game, the storyline was addictive. I felt compelled to play the game to completion and I’m glad I did.  It’s truly a memorable experience. For me, small quality of life changes such as having an option to speed through some battle animations, and slight playcontrol enhancements would likely change my mind.

Difficulty: Mixed –  On the surface, FFT is a brutally difficult game. However, as I mentioned in the main review above, players willing to really dive into the deep mechanics of the job system, and do a little grinding will be able to make the game a complete piece of cake. It just takes a little dedication. Players who intend to play the game “normally”, will find quite a challenge ahead of them.

Story: The storyline is the main selling point of the game for me. It’s truly a work of art. If you’re playing for the storyline, I do recommend the War of the Lions version of the game. The new translation is exceptional, whereas the original localization does leave a lot to be desired. Plus, the cutscenes are extremely well done.

Originality: In terms of other games in the Final Fantasy series at the time of it’s release, FFT was very original. However, it was certainly not the first tactical role playing game. But, by combing a rich story, a unique job system, and other Final Fantasy elements, we are left we a completely original title that is unlike any other.

Soundtrack: The score for the game is also exceptional. It’s fully orchestrated and absolutely stunning. Since experiencing this game, I’ve also purchased an official copy of the soundtrack and added it to my collection.

Fun: If real time strategy or tactical combat games are your cup of tea, this game will undoubtedly be a favorite of yours. Fans who are more RPG oriented, like me, may find this game a little sluggish and a bit of an ill fit. That being said, the game can still be very enjoyable. It’s just not a one-size-fits-all experience.

Graphics: Regardless of which version you play, Final Fantasy Tactics shows it’s age. I do recommend the updated version for the best graphical experience. The cutscenes are hand-drawn animation and absolutely stunning.

Playcontrol:  This is my biggest area of complaint. While the functional controls for the game are of no issue, the camera controls and battlefield screen rotation are annoying. Also, since many of the sprites look alike, it’s easy in the beginning of the title to tell the difference between friends and enemies without actually hovering over individual units. Ironically, the best play control experience comes not on PS1 or PSP, but rather the mobile port of the game. The mobile version actually seems to alleviate many of these playcontrol headaches.

Downloadable Content: N/A

Mature Content:  No Concerns- Minor language. 

Value:  Both the original and remake are available on the Playstation Network for $9.99. So if you have a PSP or a Vita, the War of the Lions version is a no brainer. The price is more than fair for the amount of gameplay in the title. Prices vary for mobile users, but I’ve seen the game as low as $4.99 on the Google Play store.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – I know that many gamers would crucify me for giving this game anything less than a perfect score. But to me, I had just enough complaints to knock this down from four to three stars. The storyline and soundtrack are second to none. But some of the gameplay elements and camera issues just really bothered me. I will say that Final Fantasy Tactics, in any form, is a stellar game. But it’s not a game that I can recommend to all players. If RTS or tactical RPGs are your thing, this will certainly be one of the best titles you might ever play. If you’re like me, you may not find this to be as enjoyable.

Available on: PSN, PSP, iOS, Android

Other Reviews In This Series:

Main Series:

I – II – III – IV – V – VI – VII – VIII – IX – X – X2 – XI – XII – XIII – XIII 2 – XIII Lightning Returns – XIV – XV 

IV: After Years – VII: Dirge of Cerberus – VII: Crisis Core – VII: Advent Children (Movie) – XII: Revenant Wings – Type-0 – XV: A King’s Tale – XV: Brotherhood (Anime) – XV: Kingsglaive (Movie)

Misc Titles:

World of Final Fantasy – Explorers – Mystic Quest – 4 Heroes of Light 

Tactics:

Tactics – Tactics Advance – Tactics A2

Dissidia:

Dissidia – Dissidia 012 – Dissidia NT

Crystal Chronicles:

Crystal Chronicles – Ring of Fates – My Life as King – My Life as Darklord – Echoes of Time – Crystal Bearers

Mobile Titles:

Dimensions – Dimensions 2 – Record Keeper – Brave Exvius – Mobius Final Fantasy  – Justice Monsters V – King’s Knight  – Dissida Final Fantasy Opera Omnia

Review: Parasite Eve

One of the more popular arguments at my house around Christmas time: is Die Hard a Christmas movie? I’m a firm believer that it is. It takes place at Christmastime, various scenes in the film are decorated for the season, and there’s even a few utterances of “Merry Christmas”. Following that same logic, one could make an argument that Parasite Eve is a Christmas game. So, it’s very fitting that I post this review today, Christmas 2017.

This review has a been a long time coming. Parasite Eve is a classic Playstation title, but one that I’ve never had the chance to enjoy until now. Originally released in 1998, this game is actually the follow-up to a Japanese horror novel. (One I reviewed on this site, just a few months ago). The game was huge success for Squaresoft at the time of it’s release, and maintains a strong cult following. This is one that I’ve always wanted to play, but never got around to. I’m happy to declare that this has finally changed.

The premise of the game is this: Mitochondria, the powerhouse of the human cell are not all that they seem. In fact, they are actually parasites that have laid dormant in the body of each human since the early days of civilization. The consciousness that lives in every mitochondria calls itself “Eve”. Eve has been patiently waiting for human civilization to reach a point of advancement so that it can take over and become the ruling sentient species. That time is now. Eve is able to make humans spontaneously combust and can evolve people and other animals into horrifying mutant creatures. Thankfully, the hero of this game, an NYPD officer named Aya Brea – is actually immune to the effects of her rebellious mitochondria. Aya catches wind of this mysterious plot and sets out to put an end to Eve’s plans before it is too late. Pretty weird, huh?

Having never played this game before, I was a little unsure what to expect. Visually, the game looks a lot Final Fantasy VIII. Which makes sense as it was developed by the same company and around the same time. Both the in-game graphics and cinematic cutscenes are similar. For it’s day and age, the game looked pretty impressive. Parasite Eve also has some of the RPG aspects that one would expect to find in a Squaresoft title. The main character can equip various weapons and armor, she earns EXP through battle and can level up, she also has the ability to use magic (called Parasitic Energy in this game). Your progress can be saved at various locations in the game (at telephones), so players used to “save points” will feel right at home. However, unlike most RPGs, battles are a mixture of both turn-based combat and live action.

When fighting enemies in Parasite Eve, you need to wait for your “Attack Meter” to fill up before you can execute an attack, cast a spell, or use an item. During the downtime between actions, you can run around the battlefield openly. This allows you to chase enemies, dodge attacks, etc. When attacking, you can direct your attack at multiple enemies. So, if you are firing a pistol, for example, you can aim a few shots at Monster A and a few at Monster B – all in one turn.  I found this blend of turned-based/action combat to be both refreshing and engaging. Being a longtime fan of RPGs, it was a new twist that I wasn’t expecting. I really enjoyed this model of combat. High marks to battle designer on this title.

Parasite Eve is a very story-driven game. The game is broken up into several chapters (or Days). Most of these days are focused on a single task and introduce the player to new locations or characters. After a certain point, the gameworld opens up and the player is able to visit various locations in New York City at will. Later in the game, players can use this freedom to their advantage. It allows them to grind monsters for experience, collect loot to customize weapons and armor, etc. The main scenario itself is rather short for an RPG. I believe I cleared it in about 8 hours.

Upon completing the game the players will receive a rather ambiguous ending. But, this unlocks “Ex Mode” – essentially a New Game Plus option that allows players to play through the entire game again, with their current level and items. This can be done as many times as the player likes. During these subsequent playthroughs, a new area is available. This new level features 77 randomly generated floors. On the last floor is an ultimate boss. Completing this hidden dungeon in Ex Mode will allow you to view the real ending for the game.

All of this makes Parasite Eve a very interesting game. Despite being a classic title, in many ways it was very ahead of it’s time. The “New Game Plus” is an option found in most modern RPG titles. So are multiple endings. But it’s not something you saw very often in 1998. – I enjoyed this game tremendously. It felt both familiar and new at the same time. I was pleased to see many new and risky concepts unseen in previous popular RPGs. I’m curious to see what the next entries in series bring to the table.

If you like Square’s RPGs and you’re looking for something different, this is certainly a game worthy of your attention.

Difficulty: Medium –  Parasite Eve does not feature multiple levels of difficulty. The game is very different from other RPGs and as a result can seem a little complex at first. New players are advised to review the Tutorial option from the main menu before playing to make things a bit easier. The game starts off fairly easy, but the difficulty does ramp up in later chapters. It is possible to grind your way to higher levels, thus making the game a piece of cake. However, regardless of your level, completing the optional dungeon and defeating the hidden boss will require a bit of effort.

Story: This title is very story driven – and is actually probably the best part of the game. The plot unfolds through both in-game narratives and video cutscenes. The storyline is riveting and very well told. Players wanting even more can seek out a copy of the Parasite Eve novel, which actually serves as a prequel to the game itself.

Originality: Despite being labelled as an RPG, Parasite Eve is a refreshing take on the genre. First, it takes place in the real world – in New York City to be exact. Instead of knights and dragons, we have cops and monsters. The combat is a mixture of turn-based and live-action – very unique for a game of it’s time. In many ways, it also incorporates some survival horror elements.

Soundtrack: The game soundtrack is catchy and groovy. There’s not really a wide variety of music in the game, but despite being a bit repetitive at times, it’s well done and pleasant.

Fun: If you enjoy games with a heavy plot and unique RPG elements, Parasite Eve is worth a look. I enjoyed this title very much – and for different reasons than I expected to.

Graphics: The pixelated graphics and FMV movies are very dated by today’s standards. But at the time of the release, they were considered very well done. To be fair, many of the creature transformation scenes are so shocking and grotesque that even with their aged looked, they still retain a blood-curdling effect on the watcher. (At least they did with me.)

Playcontrol:  The game controls are a bit antiquated by today’s standards, but overall are well implemented and intuitive. The combat takes a bit to get used to at first and sometimes feels a bit boxed in – but after a few hours it becomes second nature.

Downloadable Content: N/A

Mature Content: YES – Graphic violence and gore, adult themes (medical reproduction). 

Value:  This game is available as a PS One Classic on the Playstation Network for $5.99. At this price, the game is a steal. Parasite Eve also features a decent level of replayability due to it’s “EX Mode” and randomly generated optional dungeon.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – I found this title to be a delightful change of pace from other 64-bit era role playing games. The real-world setting and strange pseudo-scientific flare made for a really unique experience. I’m ashamed to admit that it took me almost twenty years to experience this title. I recommend it to anyone who enjoy both role playing games and survival horror titles from the late 90s.

Available on: PSN

 

Other Reviews In This Series:

Parasite Eve (Novel) –  Parasite Eve  –  Parasite Eve II   –  The 3rd Birthday

Review: Resident Evil 3 – Nemesis

Halloween is tomorrow! And the Sensei household has been celebrating the season in full swing. The decorations are up, the jack-o-lanterns are carved and the sweet smell of pumpkin spice flows through the air. I’ve spent several caffeine fueled nights playing through the third entry of the Resident Evil franchise. Now, my review is here.

I last reviewed a Resident Evil game back in February. So it’s been a little while since I set foot into the horrifying streets of Raccoon City. Having never played Resident Evil 3 until now, I really had no idea what to expect from this entry in the franchise. But it didn’t take long to get my head back into the game. This title is very reminiscent of the earlier entries in the series. The events of Resident Evil 3 actually start about 24 hours before the previous game. Resident Evil 2 follows the story of Claire Redfield and officer Leon Kennedy as they struggle to survive the hordes of zombies that roam the streets of ravaged Raccoon City. Resident Evil 3 on the other hand, follows the story of Jill Valentine, one of the heroes from the original game, as she also struggles to survive and and escape with her life. Since Resident Evil 2 and 3 take place almost concurrently, there is some overlap between the two games. Some locations from the second game are accessible in this title as well. But, the main characters of the two games never actually cross paths. During her escape of the city, Jill uncovers the terrible secret behind the virus that’s caused the outbreak and encounters a ruthless creature known as “Nemesis”. This infected beast was created by Umbrella Corp to hunt down any surviving STARS members with the intent to kill anyone who might be able to expose Umbrella’s role in the outbreak.

The introduction of Nemesis is what really sets this game apart from the other entries in the series. He’s a very formidable foe, that is encountered at semi-random intervals in the game. And it can almost mean certain death for a player who is unprepared. Now, along with the usual exploration, puzzles and zombie encounters, you also never know when and where Nemesis might appear. This actually gives the game an extra layer of tension that is certainly welcome.

While very similar to the previous entries in the series, Resident Evil 3 also seems to inject a little more action-oriented gameplay into the franchise. For the most part, the gameplay experience is identical to Resident Evil 1 and 2, but this time there are many more enemies to be found. It’s not unusual to find yourself being backed into a corner by five or more zombies. When this occurs, you have little choice but to shoot your way through the encounters. Also, the battles with Nemesis will often require you to master the game controls as you will need to dodge his attacks while you flee or unleash an attack of your own against him.

Aside from these mechanics, the gameplay for Resident Evil 3 largely follows the same formula of the previous games. The graphics still consists of pixelated objects on pre-rendered backgrounds. The game also has some of the same faults as it’s predecessors: cumbersome inventory managements and clunky controls.

Upon completion of the game, a new playable mode is unlocked. This features a short mini-game where you can play as one of the Umbrella Corp mercenaries. There’s not much to it, but it’s addition is certainly welcome.

Resident Evil 3 makes for a fine addition to an already awesome series. But, despite all of it’s good aspects, the overall formula does start to show its age a bit in this title.  On it’s own, this game shines. But not quite as much as the first or second entry. The things that made the first games great are certainly present here, but by this point players have pretty much seen every trick in the “survival horror book”.  That being said, if you’re a fan of the genre, this game should not be overlooked. All in all, it makes a fine capstone to the original Resident Evil Trilogy.

Being the last title in the series on the Sony Playstation, I’m very curious to see what the next generation platform holds for Resident Evil. I personally have never played any of the other games, so I’ll be experiencing them much like a new player would have upon their original release as I continue my generation playthroughs.

Difficulty: Variable –  There are two difficulty options in RE3. Easy and Hard. Easy mode essentially unlocks a majority of the game’s weapons and ammo and makes them available to the player almost immediately. It also makes some minor changes to the gameplay itself. While this can certainly be a boon for new players, I really recommend playing the game on the default difficulty if you’re a Resident Evil veteran. The encounters with Nemesis are more meaningful on hard mode and the added difficulty adds to the tension you’ll feel as you play.

Story: This game continues to shed new light on the T-Virus origins. It piggybacks very well on the backstory presented in Resident Evil 2. The very end of this title provides an amazing cliffhanger and a great set up for future entries in the series. As someone largely ignorant to future entries in the RE universe, I can’t wait to see where things are going. The storyline is probably one of the strongest elements in the game.

Originality: This title follows the tried and true method of the first two games with a few new twists. The biggest changes here are the encounters with Nemesis and options presented alongside his appearance. Other than that, if you’ve seen either of the other games, you already know exactly what to expect.

Soundtrack: Just like with the first two games, the soundtrack is very minimal. The music is sparse and often used as a tool to build tension. But, when there is music to hear, it’s appropriate and atmospheric. The game also uses ambient sounds to help set a spooky tone. All of it is very well done. The voice acting is on par with those from the other two games (which leaves a lot to be desired, honestly).

Fun: Resident Evil 3 is a fun and welcome entry to a classic franchise. It doesn’t hold quite the same magic as the first two entries. But fans of the series will be more than happy with what’s in store for them.

Graphics: The pixelated graphics and the low resolution FMV movies are very dated by today’s standards. But at the time of the release, they were considered very well done. Resident Evil 3 does a great job with what it had to work with to create a spooky and exciting game.

Playcontrol:  Again, this is one of the weakest points of the game for me. This seems to be an issue that does not go away. But, to be honest, it really is simply a sign of the times. The characters in the game is controlled using the old, clunky “compass rose tank” style of movement. Players used to modern 360 degree movement will need some time to get adjusted. Overall the controls feel stiff and antiquated. But in the long run, they are manageable with a little practice.

Downloadable Content: N/A

Mature Content: YES – Extreme violence and gore. 

Value:  This game is available as a PS One Classic on the Playstation Network for $9.99. Even today, this price is worth it considering the size and content that game provides.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Resident Evil 3 is a classic, stellar game. But it’s  not without its faults and its just a bit weaker than it’s predecessors. The new additions keep the game fresh enough so as not to feel like an old retread. But the game also manages to milk the cow of it’s very last drop. It’s a must-play for fans of the series, but a new player would be better advised to check out one of the previous entries if they want the best experience.

Available on: PSN

 

 

Other Reviews In This Series:

Resident Evil  –  Resident Evil 2  –  Resident Evil 3: Nemesis  –  Resident Evil: Code Veronica  –   Resident Evil Zero  –  Resident Evil 4  –  Resident Evil 5   –   Resident Evil: Revelations   –  Resident Evil 6  –  Resident Evil: Revelations 2   –   Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

Resident Evil HD Remake

The Umbrella Chronicles   –  The Darkside Chronicles

Umbrella Corps

 

Review: Silent Hill

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Happy Halloween! I’m keeping with my tradition and reviewing a spooky game for the month of October. It’s always my goal to try to do as many as possible but sometimes due to work and other schedule demands, I’m not always able to accommodate more than one title. But fear not! With so many PS-era titles to choose from, I’m going to keep the horror game reviews coming into the month of November.

For my actual Halloween review, I played through the PS1 classic, Silent Hill. This is a title that I bought many years ago when I first purchased my PS2, but no sooner did I acquire it, I found myself as a new parent and in the middle of a hectic move. As a result, the game sat on my shelf. Well, I’ve finally dusted it off and played it from start to finish. I’m here to share my throughts on this legendary title.

If I had to classify it, Silent Hill is a survival-horror game. But in truth, it’s also very much a mystery game. In Silent Hill, you play the character of Harry Mason. The game begins when Harry and his daughter Cheryl arrive in the small resort town of Silent Hill for vacation. Their trip takes an unexpected turn when Harry veers from the road to avoid striking a woman with his car. Harry wakes up to find himself in his wrecked car with Cheryl nowhere in sight.  The game involves Harry searching for his missing daughter in the mysterious ghost town of Silent Hill. It doesn’t take long to realize that things in Silent Hill are very far from normal.

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Something strange is afoot in the small town of Silent Hill. A thick fog descends over the town, as does an endless flurry of snow. The town is largely abandoned with the exception of horrific creatures and few other survivors that you will encounter along the way. As if that isn’t frightening enough, as you play you’ll find yourself phasing in an out of a strange mirror dimension filled with even more horrific sights.

The game is very atmospheric. The creepy foggy or dim-light areas work well to build tension with the player. As does the camera angle and ambient sounds. You see, Silent Hill is a third-person game but unlike many, it does not feature a user-controlled camera. Instead, the game relies on an automatic camera that will adjust itself as needed, but often works to a dramatic effect.  The soundtrack in the game is dynamic with creepy music that fades in rarely, but at very appropriate times. For the most part, there is very little music in the game. The game instead relies on ambient sounds to invoke fear. For example, Harry carries a pocket radio with him that emits static whenever there is danger near. You may be walking along fat, dumb and happy when suddenly the radio kicks it – causing you to draw your weapon and proceed with caution.

I’ve read that the real reason for the fog and low lighting was to lessen the memory burden for the game. At the time this game was released, 3D titles on the console were still in their infancy and rendering them could bring consoles to their knees. So developers often relied on little tricks to try to limit draw distances, etc. But whatever the reason, it works very well here. In fact, the thick fog has become one of the game’s most memorable features.

Silent Hill takes players through some classic creepy environments; An abandoned school, a hospital, and even the city sewers. Playing the game is a bit akin to watching and episode of Ghost Adventures, but with an interactive element.

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What’s also great about the game is the strange and unusual story. What starts out as a simple plot device (find your missing daughter), but soon unravels into a dark and complex tale. Players who are willing to take their time and explore the city and read all of the clues presented to them will certainly get more out of the game than those that try to speed through it. Aside from exploration, the game does feature a few puzzles and riddles that players must solve to proceed.

All in all, I found Silent Hill to be the perfect game to play on a late October night with the lights off.

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Difficulty: Variable –  Silent Hill offers three levels of difficulty. I experimented with all three and found them to be quite appropriate. For most players, I would recommend the middle setting. But for those players who are veteran survival horror gamers, the more difficult setting may be more your speed.

Story: The set up for the game is simple, but as you play and uncover the backstory of Silent Hill things do tend to get muddled and a bit confusing. The backstory is very cerebral and can be a bit difficult to follow if you’re not paying attention. The game itself has multiple endings depending on certain actions taken in the game.

Originality: Released in 1999, the game is certainly not the first in the Survival Horror genre. But I chose it for my playthrough due to the psychological elements that it leans on. Up to this point, most other horror games relied on jump scares and gory imagery to frighten players. While there are bits of both in Silent Hill, the majority of “scary” atmosphere found in this game is in the mind of the player – put in place by the wonderful visual and auditory elements by the game’s designers.

Soundtrack: Aside the intro and ending music, there’s little in terms of an actual musical soundtrack. The game instead relies on ambient thumps, creaks, moans, and of course the ever trusty radio static to scare the living daylights out of players.

Fun: If you like spooky/horror games, this is a classic. As far as games go, it’s a bit slow-paced. This is fine with me, but I can imagine that some players may find it boring. It’s certainly a game designed for a specific audience, but to those target players it’s going to be very appealing.

Graphics: For it’s time, Silent Hill was top of the line. It features a mix of pre-rendered video with blocky 3D textures. By today’s standards, it’s certainly dated and aged. But at the time of release, this was as good as it got for consoles.

Playcontrol: The controls are a bit stiff and clunky. As mentioned in the review, there’s no manual camera control. So it takes a few minutes to get the hang of things. You soon learn how to rotate the character, instead of the camera – before moving in the desired direction. By today’s standards, the playcontrol does seem antiquated and slightly inefficient.

Downloadable Content: N/A

Mature Content: Violent and grotesque imagery. Occult references and an overall horrific atmosphere.

Value:  These days, Silent Hill is available on PSN for about $6.00. For this price, the game is a steal.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – If you’re a fan of survival horror or even mystery games, Silent Hill is a must-play. I can’t believe I waited so long to play this classic title. Aside from some minor frustration with the play control, I found this to be the perfect title for a spooky, late-night playthrough.

Available on: PSN

Review: Blood Omen – Legacy of Kain

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“VAE VICITS!” –   That is the battle-cry of Kain, the lead character of Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain. Anyone who plays this game for more than five minutes will certainly be familiar with the phrase. It is repeated at random, frequent intervals as you play through this title. In fact it is repeated so often, that on more than one occasion I felt the need to mute my volume. But before we go down that rathole, let’s discuss the basics.

Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain is a title that I had no experience with whatsoever prior to playing through it for this review. It is a title that I’d seen pop up from time to time on lists of “The Greatest Playstation Games of All Time”. So, when I compiled my own personal backlog of PS1 games, I made sure to include it.

Blood Omen, is a gothic, action/adventure game. In this title you play as Kain, a murdered noble from the land of Nosgoth who is resurrected from death by a powerful necromancer. In return for a life of undeath, Kain is tasked with hunting down the members of a mysterious order. As you play through the game, the secrets surrounding your mission become clear, and Kain must ultimately determine if he will follow the path of good, or evil.

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Sounds cool right? Well, in many ways it is, but for each good quality the game also has an equal number of drawbacks. First, let’s discuss the gameplay itself.  Blood Omen is basically a birds-eye view adventure game. Not unlike the original Legend of Zelda. In fact, in many ways it’s quite similar. There’s an open world to explore that’s filled with nooks and crannies which contain power-ups, abilities, weapons, armor, etc. You start the game in a pretty vulnerable state, but as you progress and increase in strength, you soon become a force to be reckoned with. Kain can take damage through combat, via traps and even by certain weather conditions (rain, snow —  he is a vampire after all). Luckily, Kain can recover his energy by feeding on the living. This includes various NPCs in the game and even enemies who may be on the brink of death. Typically, as you progress through the game and defeat bosses, Kain will unlock new powers and gear that both increase his strength, but also give him the ability to explore previous inaccessible areas.

All of the above sound like the set up for what should be an amazing game. So what’s the problem? Well, to put it gently, this game has issues. Issues so severe that it does impact player enjoyment. To start with, Blood Omen has HORRENDOUS loading times. Now, I’m not talking about Saving/Loading player data. I’m talking about nearly anything. Press start to bring up the inventory – you will encounter a 2-3 second load time, same with bringing up the map, or entering a building. Even non-loading functions within the game such as transforming from human-form to that of a wolf, you will experience a 2-3 second transition time. What makes this worse, is the fact that I played the digital-download version from PSN. I can only imagine how much longer these load times might have been when playing from the actual disc.

But the issues don’t stop there. The playcontrol is not at all intuitive. The default button controls don’t feel natural and all-to-often are not responsive at all. While the game features some very impressive voice acting, Kain’s battlecry is repeated so often it becomes annoying almost instantly.

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So, all this considered, what’s the verdict here. Well, despite it’s many flaws, I can certainly see what made Blood Omen interesting at the time. The game is very mature and appealed to an audience that had not been really catered to thus far. Horror-themed games were few and far between around the time this came out. Plus, compared to other titles of the time, the graphics and voice acting were considered top of the line. So I can see how many players may have been enthralled with the title. But sadly, at least in my opinion, Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain does not stand up to the test of time. This is a game that might be a prime candidate for a remake. Also, the game did spawn a number of sequels which are also highly regarded in their own right. So, perhaps I might enjoy those a little better.

Difficulty: Medium –  This is one of those games that starts off fairly tough, but softens up over time. As Kain grows in strength, the overall difficulty tends to lessen a bit. The biggest difficulty for me, was getting my head around the way the game worked and learning it’s quirks.  Reading the actual game manual is a must to overcoming this.

Story: Here we have one of the best things about this title. The tale of Kain and even the lore behind the land of Nosgoth itself is very well done. Fans of gothic/Eastern-European horror would really find something of value in the story told over the course of this game.

Originality: Blood Omen is a mixed bag when it comes to originality. The overall game design presented here is certainly nothing new, but I feel that developers really put a lot of effort into being revolutionary by appealing to an adult audience.

Soundtrack: The background music for the seems largely atmospheric. It’s certainly not catchy or all that interesting in itself. But, it serves the game well. The real shining star here is the voice acting. The lead character has personality and flair. The acting is not cheesy and phony like so many titles of the era.

Fun: Generally speaking, I did not find this game to be very enjoyable. I did find it to be very interesting in many regards, but to be completely honest. I was glad to see my time with the game come to an end. That’s never a good sign.

Graphics: Mixed here as well. The cutscenes are dated and pixelated. But for the time, they were top of the line. The game itself is overall very attractive. Especially when zoomed into the action. But if you pull the camera out, things tend to get messy quick. 

Playcontrol: I encountered major issues with the playcontrol for this title. Granted, I played this PS1 title on the PS3, but typically that poses no issue. To be sure, however, I also downloaded the game to my PSP – only to find the experience worsened. So far, I’m only talking about the actual controls. The long loading times and overall “sludgeiness” of the title was a real downer for me.

Downloadable Content: N/A

Mature Content: Violence, Language, Occult References

Value:  These days, Blood Omen can be found for around $5.00 on the PSN store. Which, to be fair, is a very good price even with all the flaws I mentioned above. So, if you’re curious, you won’t be out much even if you end up not digging the game.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – For me, this game was largely a stinker. But, it does have several qualities that a certain niche of players would find enjoyable. If you’re one of those types, then by all means, this might be the game for you. But for a casual player looking for the best of the what the PS1 had to offer, you may fare better by looking elsewhere.

Available on: PSN

Other Reviews In This Series:

Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain   –  Soul Reaver  – Soul Reaver 2 –  Blood Omen 2 – Defiance

Remembering the Playstation

From the 80s to the early 90s, Nintendo was the undisputed king of the home console market. The NES and Super NES were household names, but times were changing fast. In order to keep up with new technology, rumor has it that Nintendo and Sony were working on a joint project that would add CD-ROM  functionality to the Super Nintendo. For whatever reason, Nintendo bailed. Instead of cutting their losses in R&D, Sony decided to take the technology and develop their own system. Thus, the Sony PlayStation was born. Almost right away, developers jumped on board. Even many of Nintendo’s prized partners, Capcom, SquareSoft, and Konami began to develop for the PlayStation, leaving the SNES in the dust. Times were changing.

As I’ve mentioned before on this site, there was a span of time in the mid to late 90s that I virtually ignored home console game. The PlayStation era was such a time. As a result, I missed out on a number of great games. Over the years, I’ve caught up on a few, but there’s still quite a number of legendary titles that slipped through my fingers.  Naturally, I’ve played the Final Fantasy games, and I’ve already posted reviews for the Castlevania  titles on the blog. But there are so many more.

In the coming weeks I’ll be playing and reviewing a number of games from this era. Some of them I’ve played in the years after their release, others I managed to miss altogether. So unlike all the other “retro reviews” I’ve posted, we’re reaching a phase on this blog where I’ll be experiencing some truly legendary games for the first time. Please look forward to it!

Playstation Panic

One of the worst things about modern gaming consoles tends to be their lifespan. In the last few years, I’ve gone through two Xbox 360’s and recently I began experiencing issues with my PS3.
The problem most of these devices seems to encounter has to do with overheating. After a while, dust accumulates inside the consoles, or the cooling fans stop working and then one day, BOOM. They are fried.

What I think people tend to forget is that modern day consoles are actually mini-computers designed to only play games. However, unlike a tower PC, they are compact, and made to fit nicely in a home entertainment center. But, put a lot of heat generating devices in a small enclosed space and you’re going to have trouble.

Now, let me state, that I have never experienced this issue with a Nintendo product. I’m not being biased, just honest. The old NES certainly has design flaws that, over time, could cause some issues. But aside from that, I’ve never had a problem with a Nintendo product. I still have Gameboy Advances that power on and work as good as the day they were brought home.

Recently, I experienced a panic moment with my PS3. You see, I have an old PS3. One of the highly-coveted originals. As you may or may not know, when the PS3 was first released it was a big honking piece of machinery. It could play Blu-Ray movies, DVDs , PS1, PS2 and of course PS3 titles. The only problem was, it was expensive and it was prone of heat issues.

While I still have a PS2 tucked away in the recesses of my house, I am not ready to give up this magnificent all-in-one system. So needless to say, when my PS3 suddenly started sounding like a B-52 taking off in the middle of my Mega Man marathon the other day, I hit the panic button.

Luckily, I think I have identified and corrected the issue before my system was fried to a crisp. The biggest problem facing the original PS3, is not actually dust build up, but rather the drying up of the thermal paste on the CPU and GPU chips.

Much like a PC processor, the chips inside a PS3 need adequate cooling or they will overheat and burn up. This cooling is accomplished by attaching a metal device known as a heatsink to the chip. The heatsink is then cooled off with a fan. To ensure proper transfer of heat from the chip to the heatsink, a special thermal paste is applied to the face of the chip. Should this paste ever dry up or dissipate for any reason, it’s only a matter of time.

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    The PS3 internal chips, naked.

Luckily, a friend and I turned fixing my PS3 into an afternoon project. I’m happy to report that it seems to be running quieter than ever after the fix. Correcting this issue was not difficult at all. If you encounter the telltale signs of games freezing, and extremely/sudden loud fan noise – it may be smart to power of the console as soon as possible and either call Sony or do a google search for the instructions needed to fix it yourself.

Review: Mega Man 8

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Finally, we come to the last game on the Mega Man Anniversary Collection; Mega Man 8. Originally released for the Sony Playstation and later, the Sega Saturn. Mega Man 8 represents the first 32-bit title for the series.

This is another one that I initially missed the first time around. So, this experience was all new to me.
This game actually features an animated cutscene. However, I was extremely let down by the quality of it. It seriously looks like a 3rd generation VHS dub of a crappy cartoon. What in the world?!

The game begins with two strange robots fighting in outerspace. They crash to earth, where one o them is found by Dr. Wily. Harnessing the new “dark energy” he finds inside the robot, he upgrades his robots, making them more deadly than ever before.

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After being sent to investigate the crash site, Mega Man recovers one of the crashed robots and takes it to Dr. Light’s for repairs and sets off to do battle with Dr. Wily’s new mechanical menaces.

Is it at this point that, Duo (the rescued robot), explains how Dr. Wily must have used the dark energy to make his robots masters more powerful, and he offers his assistance in defeating Wily’s remaining bosses.

Of course, Mega Man fights his way through more dangers and eventually does battle with Bass and manages to save the day with the help of Duo.

As expected, the graphics and sound are much improved, and the game is even harder than Mega Man 7.  ARRRRRGH!!

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Difficulty: Very Difficult  – This game seemed even harder to me than Mega Man 7, if that is possible. The worst are what I call the “surfboard” levels. Areas where Mega Man has to coast on a platform and is only able to jump, duck or shoot. INSANE!

Story: Again, we have a good story and this time with cinematics. This is probably the highlight of the game, in my opinion.

Originality: Aside from the storyline, again, there’s nothing new brought to the table. Which, considering the hardware of the PS1, is really sad. I feel there was a lot of potential squandered.

Soundtrack: Here we have good, CD-quality sound, but what I feel is sub-par music. Another shame

Fun: Once more, the difficulty of this title really ruined a lot of it for me. I enjoyed the visuals and the level design was interesting, so I did enjoy these aspects.

Graphics: Very well done. Excellect graphics in this title. This is another area that CapCom really got right. It looks like a full-blown anime. Oddly enough, the graphics here are better than the opening cutscene.

Playcontrol: No real complaints, if you don’t count the surfboard areas. But, then again, the difficulty there is by design. Everything played well and was responsive. No real issues.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Overall, and by itself, MM8 is a good game. Personally, I was turned off by it’s difficulty. Who knows, maybe I’m getting old, but it was too darn extreme for me. I suspect that most casual players would agree.

Not currently available

Other Reviews In This Series:

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MMX – MMX2 – MMX3 – MMX4 – MMX5 – MMX6 – MMX7 – MMX8 – MMXtreme – MMXtreme2 – Comman Mission

Zero – Zero2 – Zero3 – Zero 4 – ZX

BN – BN2 – BN3- BN4- BN5 – BN6

Review: Castlevania – Symphony of the Night

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The next installment of my Castlevania playthrough is complete. The legendary Symphony of the Night! This game is considered a classic, and one of the “must-have” playstation titles. This is the game that revitalized the series, and set the bar for many of the future installments.

This title is a direct sequel to Rondo of Blood. As it starts during the final battle between Richter and Dracula. 5 Years later, Richter mysteriously vanishes at the same time that Castlevania reappears (before the normal 100 year cycle). Maria heads to Castlevania to find Richter, while she’s there she runs into Alucard, who has also ventured to the Castle to investigate it’s mysterious return.

During the course of the game, you control Alucard as he explores the castle, and overcomes it’s many obstacles and monsters. Over time, he finds stronger weapons and armor, and develops new abilities.

This is the first is what is known as the “Castleroid” games, due to the similarities it shares with Metroid (finding items to gain access to new areas, giving the player free-reign of the environment). Progress can be saved by having Alucard rest in a coffin, much like the save-rooms in the later Metroid titles.

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The game has multiple endings, but the best ending is only seen if certain qualifications are met.

As the game progresses, Alucard has several encounters with the various minions of Dracula. Eventually he runs into Richter, who seems to be possessed. Richter claims to be the “lord of the castle”, and he summons a mighty beast to fight Alucard. Alucard also has several meetings with Maria, on their last encounter she gives him a pair of blessed glasses. These will enable him to see “things which are hidden by evil”. At one point, while Alucard rests, he has a surreal dreams that depicts the death of his mother, Lisa. It seems that Lisa, a human woman was condemned to death by humans for her relationship with Dracula. We now understand the reason that Dracula hates humanity as a whole.

Eventually, Alucard makes his way to Dracula’s throne room and finds it occupied by Richter, who attacks Alucard.

When putting on the glasses, it becomes clear that Alucard is being controlled by some phantom magic. Defeating Richter results in one of the poor endings of the game, while attacking the magic orb controlling him, allows Alucard to free Richter. Once Richter is free of his spell, all hell breaks loose… the clouds above the castle begin to swirl, and a dimensional portal appears in the skies above the castle. A mirror image of Castlevania descends from the portal, and this “Inverted Castle” becomes accessible.

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This castle is a mirror image of Castlevania (although you must transverse it upside down this time). This time, just like Simon in Castlevania II, Alucard must recover the remains of Dracula. Once clearing this castle, Alucard finds his way to a hidden room occupied by the dark priest Shaft. He slays Shaft, but moments too late, Dracula’s resurrection is complete, and the battle with his father begins. Alucard is successful in defeating his father, in Dracula’s last moments, Alucard reveals Lisa’s final words. As he returns to dust, Dracula seems to express some remorse for his evil ways.

The ending of the game depicts Alucard, Maria and Richter watching the Castle crumble. Alucard, still dealing with having to battle his own father, declares that he is going to go into seclusion. Richter pledges to continue to maintain the Belmont legacy, while Maria hints that she might attempt to learn more about Alucard and learn the secrets of his secluded nature.

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 – 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

1897: Dracula the novel
1917: Castlevania: Bloodlines – Jonathan Morris and Eric Lecarde vs. Dracula

Difficulty: Medium This title is fairly easy going for the most part. Unlimited saves make things much less stressful. Anyone with a bit of patience can manage to power up before taking on new areas and bosses. This game sort of sets the standard for the future titles in terms of difficulty. The challenge here comes from exploration and finding all of the hidden and secret rooms.
Story: Very well done. We finally learn a bit of history behind Dracula, as well as backstory on Alucard.

 

Originality: Overlooking many of the elements borrowed from Metroid, this game represents the new direction of the Castlevania series. Out with the old and in with the new.

Soundtrack: Excellent stuff here. New original tunes, CD quality audio. The music matches the game perfectly in most respects.

Fun: Very fun title. For a change, I found myself wanting more once the game was over. I can’t say enough good things here.

Graphics: This game is an excellent example of the what the Playstation could do. Excellent character models and background scenes.

Playcontrol:  Another win here. Everything feels natural with this title. The buttons what they “feel like” they should do. Whoever mapped the controls to the in game abilities did a masterful job.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – For many, this game IS Castlevania. While completely different from the older games, there is no denying that Symphony of the Night was responsible for bring the series back into the attention of the mainstream audience. This is one title I think no gamer should be without.

Currently available: 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