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

 

Review: Parasite Eve II

It took longer than expected, but my review for Parasite Eve II is finally here! Two years after the release of the original game, Square followed up with the second entry in the series.  I really enjoyed the first Parasite Eve game and I was very excited to experience the next chapter.

This game picks up three years after the events of the original. After what is now known as the “New York Incident”, Aya was recruited into a secret unit of the FBI called M.I.S.T. Her job is to hunt down and eliminate any remaining Neo-Mitochondria Creatures (NMCs).  The game begins when she is deployed to Los Angeles to help put down a sudden burst of NMC activity. While completing her mission she has an encounter with what appears to be a humanoid NMC. The creature escapes but Aya is persistent in learning more about this unusual being.

Her next assignment brings her to a rural town in the middle of the Mojave desert. The area is infested with NMCs and Aya investigates a lead hinting at their point of origin. It is during this investigation that she unravels a shocking conspiracy. One in which she has unknowingly been a participant in.

While the storyline builds off of the original game, the actual gameplay is considerably different. The first Parasite Eve was an interesting mix of RPG and survival horror action. This time around, nearly all RPG elements have been stripped away. This leaves the game as strictly an action-based survival horror title. In fact, it looks and feels very much like a Resident Evil game. Parasite Eve II has even adapted the familiar and irritating “tank-style” playcontrol scheme, as well as other aspects that have become synonymous with the Resident Evil franchise.

To be honest, the changes from the original game are a mixed bag. The combat no longer relies on meters and timers and it’s not locked into a specified battle area. This allows for much more freedom during combat. Aya is able to run around unfettered and even change zones while engaging an enemy. This is a good thing. Sadly, the movement controls really make navigating problematic during combat, especially early on in the game. Thankfully, Parasite Eve II has a targeting system that does a lot to help with the pain-point caused the crummy playcontrol.

Aya also does not level up in the traditional sense. Combat still yields EXP. However, EXP in this game is reserved for strengthening and unlocking her Parasite Abilities. Aide from experience, Aya also earns Bounty Points with each monster she eliminates. These points can be exchanged for weapons and items. So it’s beneficial to take out any NMCs that you encounter, even if fleeing is an option.

Despite taking a step back in the areas of playcontrol and originality, Parasite Eve II offers some very stunning visuals. The backgrounds are prerendered, yes. But the sprites in the game itself and the cinematic sequences are very well done. This game provides the best of the what original Playstation could offer.

So, praise and gripes aside – how does it play? Parasite Eve II is solid and has hours of content. I personally found the middle section of the game to be a bit repetitive and at times, boring. But, the action picks up again towards the end. As a survival horror, the game excels. The atmosphere is there, and it is very well done. I just wish it would have kept more of the unique elements from the first game, instead of of settling in to what has now become a cookie-cutter format.

The game does feature multiple endings depending on certain choices made during your playthrough. Getting the best ending on your first time through is unlikely unless you have a guide. Thankfully, you can replay the game over upon completion. So it’s very possible to enjoy everything the game has offer even if you missed it the first time around.

 

Difficulty: Variable –  Parasite Eve II offers a single difficulty level for first time players. The biggest challenges here are not found in tough boss mechanics or random encounters. But rather, I found the toughest aspect of the game to be the mastery of the game controls (ie: working through the stiff and stubborn playcontrol). After an hour of two of playtime, you tend to get the feel for things and the game gets a lot easier. Once you’ve completed the game the first time, you do unlock two additional modes of play. Replay Mode (an easier, New Game + style experience) and Bounty Mode (this is essentially Hard Mode). Finally, after reaching a certain rank in either Replay or Bounty mode, you can unlock Scavenger Mode. This ratchets up the difficulty by another notch. But wait… there’s more! Completing the game on Scavenger Mode presents you with a final option: Nightmare Mode. This is mode of play is similar to Bounty Mode, but much more brutal.

Story: This game takes the fundamental story provided by Parasite Eve and gives it an X-Files/Conspiracy twist. This is not necessarily a bad thing, per se. But, I feel like by doing so it really takes some of the more unique lore elements away from the game. All that aside, the in-game story is well done and captivating even if it loses some of itself.

Originality: This game really took a huge step backwards when it comes to being unique and original. It seems that Square panicked at some of the minor criticism they received from PE1 battle system and just decided to scrap it and follow the Resident Evil formula in hopes that no-one noticed. Everything that made the first game unique has been watered down. This is true for both the storyline and the gameplay itself.

Soundtrack: The game scores high here. The music is atmospherics and catchy. The game soundtrack is an excellent companion to the adventure. It is comprised of everything from lo-fi jazz to industrial. It helps build tension and excitement. It is everything you’d want from a survival horror score.

Fun: Despite a number of complaints, this actually a very entertaining game. Fans of the survival horror genre will find a lot to like. The replayability of the title means there are many potential long nights filled spooky fun. The storyline, even if it is not original, hooks you. The characters are soulful and engaging. I had a great time exploring the depths of this game.

Graphics: Like many PS1 titles, this game shows it’s age. However, it stands up better than most Playstation titles from the same era. The prerendered backgrounds are well done and the character sprites were top of the line for their day. The cinematics are as good as they get and are a pleasure to watch.

Playcontrol: No no no. This is the my biggest issue with the game. The playcontrol in this title is several steps down from the original Parasite Eve. It follows the familiar but frustrating scheme found in other survival horror games of the day. Turn-and-walk style controls are the bane of my existence when it comes to action games. Thankfully, we do have a targeting system that helps ease the pain. Without it, this game would be a nightmare to control.

Downloadable Content: No.

Mature Content: YES. Graphic violence, gore. Some minor language.

Value:  Despite a number of complaints, this game can still be very much worth your time. It is available digitally on the Playstation Network for $5.99. Physical copies can be found on eBay for $10 or less usually. Considering the vast amount of content and replayability, it is well worth that price even with all of its faults.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – This is a tough one, because despite its flaws, Parasite Eve II is still a really good game. I enjoyed it immensely. But, when stacked up against its own prequel and other games of a similar nature, it just doesn’t have what it takes to stand out. If you are fan of the original Parasite Eve or if you’re a hardcore survival horror nut, then this game is definitely worth your time. If not, it might be a little hard to recommend this one. To give this game a score of 2 seems a bit unfair. But, it’s not quite where it needs to be to get a solid 3.

Available on: PSN

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: Resident Evil 2

Back in November I reviewed the original Resident Evil game. Today, I’m going to take a look at the sequel. As most gamers are aware, the first Resident Evil proved to be an extremely successful game.  It spawned a slew of sequels, remakes, and even films. The original game has gone down in history as a classic. So, you might wonder how the successor of such an iconic game might stand up…  let’s find out.

First, let’s discuss the version of the game I played for this review. For this playthrough, I used Resident Evil 2 (Dualshock Version). This is the only edition of the game available on the US Playstation Store. It features the original release with added rumble controller support.  This version also includes two additional unlockable modes of play. The Dualshock Version is widely considered to be the definitive version of the game.  Is important to note that there was a Nintendo 64 port of the game. The N64 version did include some interesting additions such as alternate costumes, etc. But excludes some of the features from the Dualshock Version.  Finally, there was a release for the Gamecube as well. However, this version is nothing more than a direct port of Dualshock edition on a Gamecube disc.

This game takes place about two months after the end of the first title. (If you’ve not played the first game, it’s highly recommend that you do before jumping into Resident Evil 2 – the game will make little sense if you don’t.) By this time, the T-Virus has spread like wildfire and Raccoon City is teeming with zombies.  The game follows the stories of two individuals; Claire Redfield  (sister of Chris Redfield from the original game) and a Raccoon City police officer – Leon Kennedy.  Claire has come to Raccoon City in hopes of finding her brother, unaware of the virus and the current state of affairs. It doesn’t take her long to realize that something is terribly wrong. After a nearly fatal encounter with a zombie, she is rescued by Leon. Together the two of them head towards the police station hoping to find both shelter and answers. However, a tragic accident causes the two to become separated.  Split up and alone, Claire and Leon must explore the seemingly abandoned police station in search of answers. Assuming of course, they can manage to survive…

In many ways, Resident Evil 2 is very similar to the original game. The controls, the graphics, and the overall presentation are nearly identical. Like the first game, players can choose between three difficulty levels. There’s also an arranged (Rookie) version of the game as well.  Also, like the first game, players can choose which character to play (Leon or Claire). The main difference here is that the experience for one character can change slightly depending on choices made when playing the other character. For example, if you choose to play as Leon, you can either take of leave some items that you come across during your playthrough. If you decide to leave them, then once you complete the game – you can play again from Claire’s perspective. During this second playthrough, the item that Leon left behind will be available for Claire to find and use.  To get the full experience of Resident Evil 2, you will want to play through the game with each character.

The game originally came on two different discs. A Leon disc and a Claire disc. When starting the game for the first time, you can choose to start with either character. So, this really gives you a total of four different scenarios in which to enjoy the game;  Leon’s story followed by Claire’s, or Claire’s Story followed by Leon’s.  The gameplay does changes slightly depending on which order you decide to go with. – Completing all four will unlock a little mini game-mode called “Extreme Battle”. There’s also a special unlockable chapter called “The 4th Survivor” – This mini-game is available if you manage to score a certain number of hidden “points” while playing through the game itself.

From a lore perspective, Resident Evil 2 does a fantastic job of taking the storyline from the original game and expanding on it. In the first game, the backstory was interesting, but seemed a bit shallow at times.  In Resident Evil 2, more behind the scenes info is revealed. Suddenly, I found myself hooked on the lore behind the game.  The storytelling is told through a combination of exposition, cutscenes, and in-game breadcrumbs. So, the more you explore, the more easter eggs and details you can manage to discover. It’s all masterfully done.

Just like the original, Resident Evil 2 does a good job of building tension in attempts to scare the crap out of players. The spooky environments, ambient noises and jump scares are all very well done. In some ways, even more so than in the original. The voice acting in this title also seems to be a tad better than that of the original game, but… not by much.

My biggest fault with the title is again, the clumsy controls. This game works just like it’s predecessor. Again, are stuck with a stiff, tank-style movement scheme. Which, at the time, was pretty standard. But these days, the playcontrol is cumbersome and archaic. Despite this issue, I found the game to very enjoyable. The good certainly outweighs the bad.

Difficulty: Variable –  The Dualshock version features three levels of difficulty: Easy, Normal and Arranged. Just like with the original game, the easy option reduces the difficulty of the game considerably. Monsters are weaker, and ammunition is more plentiful than in Normal mode. The Arranged version here is different than “the arranged version” found in the first game. Here, “Arranged” (AKA: Rookie Mode) starts you off with access to some very powerful weapons and infinite ammo.  – Regardless of which version you play, I found the game only gets easier as it goes along. The first few moments of the game can be very intense and you’re often being swarmed. But as you play and manage to secure areas and increase your arsenal – things get a lot easier.

Story: This came continues the story laid out in the original game. More details are provided that help to clarify some of the more mundane aspects and to really flesh things out. Despite introducing us to some new characters, the connections to the first game are clear and very well done.

Originality: In many ways, there’s a lot about this game is very familiar to the first title. But, Capcom managed to keep things feeling fresh with a change of scenery and a few new enhancements. Having multiple/concurrent character scenarios is quite an original idea that really sets this game apart as well. While Resident Evil 2 is very much a sequel to the original, it manages to stand on it’s own.

Soundtrack: Just like with the first game, 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, I found it to be an improvement over that found in the original game. RE2 also uses ambient sounds to help set a spooky tone. All of it is very well done. The only complaint I have here are some minor gripes with the voice acting. But to be honest, I’ve heard worse.

Fun: Resident Evil 2 is a fun, entertaining successor to the first title. Again, it would be the perfect game to play on a dreary stormy afternoon or late in the evening with all the lights off.

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. Just like with Resident Evil, RE2 still manages to capture the spooky atmosphere it needs to unnerve it’s fans. 

Playcontrol:  Again, this is one the weakest point of the game for me. 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 well worth it.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – I have to give this game a four star review, but for slightly different reasons than the original. Whereas the first game scored some major points with atmosphere, this game beats it on storyline. Plus, being able to experience it from multiple scenarios and actually have them inter-lap to some extend is brilliant. At the time, it was a brand new 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: 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 two to three 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 two to three 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.

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.

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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

Review: The Legend of Dragoon

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When I announced last month that I was going to resume my PS1 playthrough reviews, I knew I had a number of options to choose from. There are so many classic games for ps1 that I never played when I was younger. I didn’t know where to start. So, I asked a friend for some suggestions. The first thing out of his mouth was Legend of Dragoon. This was a game I’d heard of in passing, but didn’t really know that much about. So I was excited to see what was in store for me.

To start this review, let me say that I really had no idea what I was expecting. I knew this game was going to be an RPG of sorts, but the fine details were completely unknown to me. To start, the first thing I noticed about Legend of Dragoon were the similarities to Final Fantasy VII. The pre-rendered backgrounds looked like something ripped directly from FFVII. The battle screen also, is very reminiscent to PS1 era Final Fantasy titles. But that’s where the similarities stop. Before getting much more into the technical details of the game, let’s talk a bit about the story.

The Legend of Dragoon is a fantasy RPG from Sony. It is set in the world called Endiness. The hero of the game, is a young named named Dart. At the beginning of the game, Dart is finally returning home from a five-year search for a terrible monster that destroyed his childhood home town.  As he approaches the outskirts of his homeland, Dart is attacked by a giant green Dragon. He is nearly killed, but saved by a mysterious armored woman who vanishes just as quickly as she appears. Upon arrival in his hometown, Dart learns that the night before his arrival, the town was ransacked by a neighboring Empire and his childhood friend Shanna was taken captive. Dart decides to sneak into the Empire’s prison to rescue his friend. This is the set up for a long and epic adventure.

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Naturally, as the game progresses the the details around the events at the beginning of the title begin to fall into place. And what we’re left with is a storyline that certainly rivals any other RPG you can throw at it. This is a thankful fact, because aside from the flawless plot, this game has some massive shortcomings. So much so, that I daresay if it wasn’t for the in-game story, I may not have finished this title.

 To start, let’s talk about the combat system. On the surface, the combat in this game appears to be similar to other Final Fantasy style RPGs. However, Sony included a new mechanic that at first, seems very refreshing, but quickly becomes cumbersome and annoying. The feature in question involves a moving on-screen graphic. Specifically, a little rotating hitbox. The point is to smash a button on the controller precisely as the ghost image, lines up with the static hit box. Doing so one, or sometimes multiple times will increase your damage output and cause a combo chain type of effect. Seems good right? Well, for different special moves, the speed and timing of each button push is different. For this reason, combat requires your absolute attention in order to be effective. I suppose, that is, after all, the idea. But the flaw here is that combat in this game simply takes too long. Between the fade in and fade out, and all the various combat animations,  the typical battle will last several minutes. Boss fights, can sometimes last 20-30 minutes. Now, that’s to be expected for major or final bosses, but while playing this game, it seemed like every single boss battle took about half an hour. To me, that’s just too long. Plus, random encounters seemed to occur a little too frequently. This combined with the length of the fights themselves, annoyed me greatly.

Another aspect of the combat system is the ability to transform in Dragoon mode. This, in theory, gives your character stronger attack power and access to magic abilities. The magic system is fairly straightforward, but melee attacks as a Dragoon, once again involve a twitch-timer/hotbox type system. Also, spell animations in Dragoon mode seem to be unnecessarily long. (This can be adjusted in the game’s settings, but even so, they still feel longer than they should).

This animation delay, doesn’t just extend to battles. But loading times overall for this game seemed much longer than they should be, and I was actually playing a downloaded PSN copy. I can only imagine how long they must have been on an actual disc.

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Another complaint, is the terrible translation this game has been given. Sony certainly seemed to opt for cost-cutting here. The quality of the translation is on par with the NES version of Metal Gear. But, admittedly, the poor translation does actually manage to give some of the characters a unique sense of personality.

When it comes to sound, LotD is a bit of a mixed bag. The musical score is very well done, and some of the songs are absolutely amazing. But others (like the main combat theme) seem to feel a bit out of place.  There are minor bits of voice acting in cutscenes and during combat, the quality of the voice acting is less than desireable. But again, somehow seems to add to the charm of the game.

Overall, I have a hard time recommending this title to casual gamers, but hardcore RPG fans will find a lot to enjoy here.

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Difficulty: Hard –  Understanding the core concepts of the game itself is easy. The difficulty here lies mainly due to the cumbersome combat system, the frequency of random encounters and the lack of available save points. Taking time to grind levels certainly makes this game a lot easier.

Story: The story here is really the game’s saving grace in my opinion. The tale starts off basic, but over time becomes more and more complex. Yet, somehow never really runs the risk of being too complicated to follow. Very high marks here.

Originality: A lot of things in this game will seem familiar to fans of the JRPG genre. Credit to Sony for trying to introduce new concepts and elements even if they fall flat more often than not.

Soundtrack: The quality of the in-game soundtrack is superb, even if some of the track seem out of place. There are some real gems here.

Fun: For me, the game starting of very well, but by the midpoint I realized that I was forcing myself to play it only to see the finale of the storyline. Plus, the game is looooooong. My playthrough was in excess of sixty hours. This blunted the fun factor for me greatly.

Graphics: For a late-system PS1 title, the graphics are acceptable, but I really feel they could have been better. Character sprites are jaggy and there not much attention to detail. Yes, this was a complaint of FF7 as well, but SE really seemed to be able to overcome this, improving the graphics presentation with each new entry. LotD seems to go the other way. That being said, the pre-rendered backgrounds and FMV cutscenes are very nice.

Playcontrol: Poor. The hitbox/twitch combat feels flawed to me. Yes, I was able to figure it out and get the hang of it, but- I’m still not sure how I did… The animation on the screen doesn’t seem to match the in-game tutorial. Aside from that, the overall controls seem loose and sloppy. I would often have trouble lining up with ladders or navigating around object in the pre-rendered environments.

Downloadable Content: N/A

Mature Content: None.

Value:  Despite all the bad things I have to say about this game, for the prince it’s going for on PSN, in comparison with the vast amount of content the game has to offer, there’s quite a bit of a deal to be had here.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – This game does have some good qualities. But the overall experience can be summed up as frustrating and unpolished. I can only recommend Legend of the Dragoon for the most hardcore RPG gamers out there. And even then, chances are there’s a better example of the genre available to play. This is a game that I would actually love to see remade and refined. There’s some GREAT ideas here, but to me, they are poorly executed.

Available on: PSN