Review: Pandora’s Tower

51AdhamL3BL-5B1-5D

With my summer vacation swiftly coming to an end, I was able to finish the final game from the infamous Operation Rainfall campaign, Pandora’s Tower. The release of this game represents the third and final victory from the campaign. Thanks to the hard work of all those involved in Op Rainfall as well as passionate gamers all over the country, US gamers were finally given an opportunity to play this title without having to resort to piracy or importing.

Of the three games involved in Operation Rainfall, Pandora’s Tower is the most unique. It’s much more action oriented than either Xenoblade or The Last Story. While there are many RPG style elements in this title, it features very fast paced action and even a bit of platforming.

The set up for the game is very original. In this title, you play the hero Aeron. The game begins when Aeron and his girlfriend, Elena flee for their lives from the nearby Kingdom of Elyria. Along with a very strange and mysterious old woman, Aeron and Elena take refuge in an abandoned observatory in the wasteland that overlooks a huge rift the landscape known as the scar. In the center of the scar lies an ancient fortress called The Thirteen Towers. It is learned that Elena has become afflicted with a terrible curse. She is doomed to be transformed into a monster unless Aeron can find a way to break the curse. For time being, the effects of the curse can be abated, but only with the continual eating of monster flesh. To ultimately break the curse, Aeron must bring back the flesh of twelve Master Beasts. The flesh can only be acquired by defeating the monsters with a weapon given to him by Mavda, The Orcalos Chain.

1366274185_3-5B1-5D

The game is broken in to two parts. First, is the exploration of the towers. It is here where Aeron must defeat monsters, collect flesh, and solve puzzles. The ultimate goal is to defeat the Master that is locked away in each of the towers. The trick is that your time in the towers are short due to a meter that continuously counts down. When it runs out, Elena is transformed into a monster and the game is over.

The second part of the game consists of Aeron’s time at the Observatory. It is here that he interacts with Elena and Mavda. Aside from ensuring she has a ready supply of flesh to eat, you can chat with her and give her gifts. This raises your affinity with her (which is crucial to the game’s outcome and storyline). Also in the Observatory, you can interact with Mavda who will pay Aeron for treasures and information he uncovers during his exploration. You can also purchase and craft/upgrade goods from her as well. The game has multiple endings that depend on your level of affinity with Elena. So it’s important to do everything you can to keep this up. This includes making sure her humanity stays intact.

The game has really wonderful concepts, and I found it to be a full of very fresh ideas, but I was a bit disappointed with the execution. Combat in the game involved either standard close-quarters hand-to-hand fighting, or long distance attacks using the chain. The latter is accomplished by pointing the Wii remote on screen to target enemies. This annoys me to no end. I find it somewhat uncomfortable to play with one hand extended out in this manner. I guess it wouldn’t be so bad if all you had to do was point and target, but once you’ve snagged an enemy, you have to then shake or pull the Wii Remote to do damage.  Despite the fatigue, I found targeting with the remote very accurate compared with other games that use this type of interaction method.

8_Wii_Pandoras-2520Tower_Screenshot_-08-5B1-5D

Visually, the game is well done. The graphics are superb for a Wii game and the soundtrack is quite good as well. The music is fitting but it’s not very diverse. It does get old after a while.

Of all the games involved in the original plan for Operation Rainfall, I can say this title is easily my least favorite. There’s some really neat concepts in Pandora’s Tower, and the storyline and visuals are unique and first rate. But the gameplay mechanics are not something I was really able to enjoy. Aside from the point and target annoyances, I found the timer to be a bit of a drag. Yes, I think that story-wise, it is a great idea. But I love exploring, and the towers just beg to be seen. But sadly, I often found myself rushing through areas so as not to waste time.

Another issue which is worthy of mention, is the infamous endgame bug. The game has a terrible glitch in it, that can both freeze the Wii as well as make the game “unfinishable”. Essentially, sometimes, for unknown reasons, when entering the 11th and 12th towers, the game will get stuck on the loading screen indefinitely. Even powering off the Wii and restoring your save and trying again will result in the same behavior. fortunately, there are quite a few workarounds for this issue which can be found all over the internet. However, this is a pretty glaring bug that should be addressed. It seems that XSeed has decided to turn a deaf ear to player complains regarding this issue.

361e71ddc73ffc3bf9ebe29a8779e74c-5B1-5D

Difficulty: Difficult –  Personally, I found this game to be a little tough. Not so much because of the challenging puzzle or battles (although some of these can be quite tricky). But mostly due to the odd gamplay mechanics. The need for a lot of “point and click” solutions with the Wii Remote combined with the fact that the game uses a fixed camera, that you cannot control, make things difficult. Often times you are required to target a certain area, only to find that area un-targetable thanks to the terrible camera system.

Story: As far as story goes, this game does an amazing job. The story is very unique and it continues throughout the game in the form of cutscenes at the observatory as well as through hints and items found through normal gameplay. The storyline is really the saving grace of the whole game in my opinion. There are multiple endings, and each is worth viewing.

Originality: Despite what I feel is a rather poor execution, this game has loads of original ideas. It’s much more than your standard damsel-in-distress situation. The curse on Elena really brings a new level of depth to the both characters. The in-game timer add a sense of urgency not found in many modern games. And, although flawed, the controls really take full advantage of the Wii’s unique features.

Soundtrack: I found the music to be very fitting but a bit repetitive at times. It has a very gothic and classical feel to really meshes well with the environment of the towers. Oddly enough there’s no official soundtrack available for purchase.

Fun: I got most of my enjoyment in the game from interacting with Elena and exploring the towers. The combat mechanics frustrated me a bit as did the timer. These two mechanics alone made me glad the game was over when  I finally finished it. I don’t see myself getting the urge to play this one again any time soon.

Graphics: The game is beautiful. But if you really look close, it’s not all that well done. There’s not as much detail in the textures as several other late-cycle Wii games. But this is really hidden with great lighting effects and a diverse use of color. Each tower has it’s own unique theme and I found the majority of the game to be very lush and exciting.

Playcontrol: This where I feel the game suffers most. Annoying point and click mechanics combined with a fixed camera really ruined what could have been a groundbreaking game for me. More than once, there will be a shining object in the game that requires you to target it with the remote only to find the item out of range thanks to the camera. Then while trying to readjust your character to make the camera swing around, you end up stumbling off a ledge or wandering too close to a monster. That really sucks.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – For everything that Pandora’s Tower does right, there’s just as much about it that feels broken. Bad camera design and gameplay mechanics combined with a terrible endgame glitch really taint what should be a near perfect demonstration of the what Wii is capable of as a system. I feel that lovers of RPGs and fantasy games may enjoy a lot of what the title has to offer, but be prepared for a little suffering along the way.

Currently available on: Wii

Review: The Last Story

the-last-story-cover-5B1-5D

Tonight I finished my playthrough of one of the infamous Operation Rainfall games, The Last Story. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit it took me so long to get around to playing this game. I had it pre-ordered and received it in the mail upon release, but I had so many other things to play it got lost in the shuffle.

Regardless, I started playing the game about 2 1/2 weeks ago and finally finished it and I have to say, I was very impressed. Created by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the original founder of Final Fantasy, this game is very story-driven. It focuses on the tale of a young mercenary named Zael and his companions.

The group takes a job on the prestigious Lazulis Island doing some grunt work for the royal Count Arganan, hoping to wiggle their way into his good graces. It is the dream of both Zael and his best friend Dagran to one day become knights, thus leaving behind the dangerous life of mercenary work. During the course of the game, Zael has a romantic encounter with count’s niece and is bestowed with a legendary power that sends his world into a whirlwind of epic confusion.

the_last_story_hd-8

When I first sat down to play this game, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew that I was in store for a somewhat typical JRPG story, but I had heard whispers that the gameplay was somewhat action-oriented. Right from the start, this was made apparent. At first,  I found the combat to feel awkward and confusing. But it’s actually quite straightforward and not really that complicated once you get the hang of it. As the game progresses, the combat system becomes more and more detailed and complex. Eventually, you gain the ability to provoke enemies at will using Zael’s abilities, thus controlling who they are focusing their attack on. Later you can also issue commands to all the characters on your team and this allows you to create various strategies to overcome whatever the game throws at you. I found it to unfold at quite a good pace and by the time you’ve reach the latter parts of the game, it’s really a lot of fun. Mastering the combat system is pretty much the key to whole game.

Combat aside, the game also features a somewhat simple system of item customization. There’s not a whole lot of mystical treasures to find, but rather simple weapons and armor can be upgraded and made very powerful. Weapons are a bit of exception to this rule. Many bosses later in the game do drop some rare and powerful weapons, but regular weapons can actually be upgraded to be nearly as useful.

the-last-story-20101209062441630-3364701_640w

If I’m going to be truthful, I have to admit that the game is very linear. For the most part, you’re boxed in by the storyline, there’s not a lot of open world exploration. At various points in the game, there are periods where you’re allowed to roam free and partake in sidequests and optional chapters, but not to the extent of other Japanese style RPGs.  Interestingly enough, I don’t really feel this to be a weakness. The game does a great job of hiding this.

The Last Story also features an interesting multiplayer option. It contains options for both co-operative play and player-vs-player combat. This optional mode does not factor into the game’s main scenario, but items acquired in multi-player mode are kept on the single-player file. I dabbled with this option, but did not get much out of it.

All in all, I was apprehensive about playing this game because I heard mixed opinions going in. My fears were quickly dispelled and I found myself enjoying this game way more than I expected to.

The-Last-Story-Screenshot-33-646x361

Difficulty: Medium  – The main scenario of the game is not especially challenging. The key is taking the time to read the tutorials and actually learn and comprehend the art of combat. Once you have this down, you’ll be in good shape. Most areas before hard bosses contain both a place to save the game as well a “summoning circle” you can use to summons monsters for a little grinding. Upon completion of the game, you can start over with a New Game Plus, which features a few new challenges.

Story: Simple fantastic. The storyline in this game rivals anything in the Final Fantasy series. Of the 30 hours I spent playing the game, I imagine quite a bit of it was spent viewing storyline and cutscenes. But, I didn’t mind at all, it was fantastic.

Originality: What I expected to be a typical RPG turned out to be much more. There’s so much about this game really gave me a breath of fresh air. The unique combat mechanics to the item system, it was really a new experience.

Soundtrack: This game is scored by the legendary Uematsu (main composer of Final Fantasy) and it is simply lovely. The voice acting in the game is also surprisingly good. Top shelf stuff here.

Fun: It took me a couple hours before I started to get a firm grasp on how this game works. At first I was confused and a bit overwhelmed. But once I found my groove, I ended up having a blast.

Graphics: This game pretty much represents the best the Wii is capable of. It is by far the best looking game I have seen on the Wii. The level of detail is breathtaking. The effects and in-game rendering are amazing. I really looks more like a PS3 game, how the developers managed to pull this off is beyond me.

Playcontrol: We have a couple options here, you can play with either the Wii Remote and Nunchuck (which I did) or the Classic Controller. I tried both, and I found the Classic Controller to feel a bit awkward. The Remote and Nunchuck combo seems to feel more natural. The camera is user-controlled, but at times, it still seems to get away from you especially during intense combat.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – For about the first half of the game, I was really leaning towards a Three-Star rating. I was having fun, and enjoyed the game, but I felt that combat system and overall weirdness of the game design was bit of a turn off. However, once I was able to break out of my preconceived notions on what a RPG game should be, everything just clicked and I found myself really enamored with the title. I found myself loving everything about the game. The characters, the visuals, the storyline and even the way the game played. The Last Story is a fantastic title.

Currently available on: Wii

Collective Review: Final Fantasy IV & Final Fantasy IV: The After Years

615911_197545_front-5B1-5D

Finally, my reviews have reached an important milestone in the era of 16-bit gaming. The first Final Fantasy title for the Super Nintendo. Final Fantasy IV was originally released in the US under name “Final Fantasy II”, since the second and third installment of the series were not originally brought stateside, it was believed that renaming the title would be a good idea and the American audience would be none the wiser. Of course, as years went by and the Internet became a common way to share information, the cat was eventually out of the bag. These days, the game is properly titled and it widely available  under it’s proper name.

When preparing to the do this playthrough and review, I had an important decision to make. There are many versions of this game available, and I had to decide which to use. To bring everyone up to speed, I’ll layout what’s out there:

Final Fantasy II (Wii Virtual Console) – This is the original version of the game, as it was released on the SNES

Final Fantasy Chronicles – This was the playstation release. It features the original game, with the proper title and a slightly improved translation.

Final Fantasy IV Advance – Improved Graphics, Improved script, New optional dungeon

Final Fantasy IV DS – 3D graphics version of the game, Improved translation, mini-games, cutscenes

Final Fantasy IV Complete Collection – Improved 2D graphics, DS Script, optional areas, “Interlude”, “After Years”

There’s a little something for everyone out there. For purists, I recommend the Chronicles version of the game. For the sake of this playthrough, I decided to use the Complete Collection. It was a version of the game I’ve not encountered before. Plus, it includes both After Years and the all-new Interlude scenarios. (More on these later)

9-Cecil_Rosa-5B1-5D Cutscene from Complete  Collection

Regardless of the version you choose, the focus of this review is on the game itself, not any particular one feature.

This game holds a lot of great memories for me. FFIV was the title that really cemented RPGs as one of my favorite genre of games. The storyline is nothing short of fantastic. The game revolves around a knight by name of Cecil. When game begins, Cecil is the captain of an elite Air Force known as the Red Wings. He is ordered to strike and steal a powerful crystal from a nearby village. After carrying out his orders, Cecil begins to question the nature of the orders given to him. Cecil is reprimanded for his lack of loyalty and as punishment is sent on a task that ultimately leads to adventure and redemption.

There’s so much to tell about the rich storyline and characters of this game, but I think it’s best experienced during play and not read in a summary.

snes-final-fantasy-2-4-5B1-5D
  Screenshot from the original SNES version

The gameplay will be very familiar to fans of the series. For the most part, the game functions and plays much like Final Fantasy I-III. Unlike FFIII, however, there are no “jobs” to select. Each character has a predetermined role and will skill up in the areas of their expertise as you progress.  The character development in this title was second to none, considering it’s time. Each character has a very detailed backstory that is revealed throughout the normal progression in the game. I can’t stress enough how much of a breakthrough the storytelling in this title was. It was unlike anything that had been seen.

Also, much like the previous games, Final Fantasy IV features a phenomenal soundtrack. Again, composed completely by Nobuo Uetmatsu.

Graphically, the game was pretty standard at the time of release. The character sprites are clear, as is most of the environment. I found some of the textures to be a bit repetitive and unimaginative at times. But overall, there’s not much to complain about. Later versions of the game have brought drastically improved visuals.

615911_20110412_screen008-5B1-5D
  Screenshot from the Complete Collection

The game proved to be quite a success, and many years after it’s original release, it spawned a direct sequel. Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, as released in episodic downloadable chapters on the Wii in 2009. This game take placed 17 years after the original and features both the aged heroes from the first game, as well as their offspring. In reality, I should probably dedicate a separate review just to this title, but there are enough similarities that I feel I can bundle them together

Originally spread out over 11 separate chapters, each typically focusing on a particular character or set of characters, players can complete the scenario and then spend time seeking powerful treasure in an “endgame” dungeon. Eventually data from all the scenarios is compiled and used in the final chapter.

30-002i026-5B1-5D
  Screen shot from Wii version of The After Years

Finally, If you’re playing the Complete Collection, there is an additional short scenario called “Interlude” that serves as a link between the original game and the After Years. This was my first time getting my hands on this chapter and while I found it be enjoyable, it’s very short and really doesn’t bring much to the table. But, it’s included and certainly doesn’t lessen the experience.

3-Interlude003-5B1-5D
  Screen shot of  ~Interlude~

Again, I have to stress that this a classic RPG and an overall excellent game. It doesn’t matter which version you can get your hands on, you’re in for quite an experience.

Difficulty: Medium  – As typical with RPGs, most of the game itself is fairly straight forward and easy going for those with a little bit of patience. Several of the bonus areas, and added content found in the later releases can be much more challenging, however.

Story: As I mentioned, the storyline for Final Fantasy IV is fantastic all the way around. Both in terms of detail and content. The storyline is even further enhanced in later versions of the games. The original SNES cartridge could only hold so much data, so a lot of the original script had to be cut from the game for space reason. Regardless, even the old version is fantastic. But to get the most out the title, I do recommend either FFIV Advance or The Complete Collection.

Originality: Mechanic-wise, there’s not a lot new introduced in the title. The 16 bit art and enhanced sound really bring a breath of fresh air to the title though. I don’t find any faults here.

Soundtrack: Excellent score. Probably the best in the series so far. Uematsu never ceases to amaze.

Fun: Many wonderful, comforting memories of this game rattle around in my brain. The characters and storyline really make this game a lot of fun. The special effects are great, the SUMMONS are awesome. Who doesn’t enjoy unleashing Ifrit on a group of cowering enemies?

Graphics: The original released featured nice, acceptable graphics for its time. However, later entries in the series and other 16 bit RPGs eventually surpassed it. The more modern versions of the game are much lovelier to look at and feature richer, more detailed models.

Playcontrol: As with most RPGs, control is not an issue. All works as it should.

Overall rating (out of four stars): (FFIV – 4)  (The After Years – 3) – Separating the review into two titles, the original game gets a perfect score. This is defiantly a must-play title for RPG enthusiasts.  The After Years, however, is a bit harder to recommend to general audiences. This game is a more fan-service than anything else. I enjoyed it, and it was very nice to revisit the world and characters again after so many years. But it did feel a bit thrown together. If you decide to experience the After Years, I recommend the PSP version over the multiple pricey downloads on the Wii.

Currently available on:  Wii Virtual Console, PSP, PSN, Steam

Other Reviews In This 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)

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

Tactics – Tactics Advance – Tactics A2

Dissidia – Dissidia 012

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

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

Review: Mega Man 10

 

mega-man-10-box-art-5B1-5D

Finally we have the most recent installment in the original Mega Man series, Mega Man 10. After the success of MM9, it was decided to follow up the game with a sequel. Like it’s predecessor, MM10 is a downloadable game designed with the look and feel of a legacy 8bit title.

This time around, Capcom implemented a setting allowing the player to change the difficulty level – a much welcome feature for many. Also, the game is playable as either Mega Man or Proto Man. Downloadable content is also available that unlocks Bass as a playable character.

MM10-Select-5B1-5D

This time around, the storyline is a little different. All over the world robots are falling ill due to a strange computer virus known as Roboenza. Luckily, Dr. Wily claims to have developed a cure – only to have it stolen by an infected robot. Mega Man sets out to retrieve it. Of course, it is eventually revealed that Dr. Wily is the one behind the infection. His goal was use his cure as bait to motivate infected robots to join in his evil plans.

This title is very similar to Mega Man 9 in many regards. There is a variety of optional levels and challenges available thru DLC, so there’s plenty to keep Mega Man fans busy. Personally, I found this game to be a tad bit easier than MM9, but it’s still challenging enough to earn it’s place next to all of the other titles.

Mega-Man-10-7HS9-5B1-5D

Difficulty: Very Difficult  – Much like all other games in the franchise, Mega Man 10 is tough. Thankfully, we do have an optional easy mode for more casual players. However, if playing on the PS3 or 360 – no achievements are available on easy mode. You’ve been warned!

Story: Dr. Wily is at it again! I like the concept of a robo-virus that was introduced in the game. There’s just enough storyline in the game, to keep your hooked through all the brutal gameplay.

Originality: While MM9 had the “original” idea of making an old school title, MM10 does the same and therefore doesn’t really introduce anything that original to the series.

Soundtrack: I found the original music in this entry of the series to be a bit of an improvement over the previous retro title. Catchy, hummable tunes throughout.

Fun: For some reason that I cannot put my finger on, I enjoyed this title a bit more than Mega Man 9. The bosses are a bit more interesting and the I think the overall levels are more fun to play. Good stuff here.

Graphics: Another good example of creating an old school 8-bit game for modern hardware. You’d never know you were playing on a current-day console.

Playcontrol: Having played this title on two of the three systems, I have to say I’m impressed. No issues on either controller and everything feels natural.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Another great example of a retro throwback title. Obviously, Capcom saw a profit with the digital release of Mega Man 9 and decided to cash in. I cannot blame them for that. The game itself is of good quality and defiantly worth a purchase for fans of the series. It’s actually free right now for Playstation plus subscribers.

Currently available on: WiiWare, Playstation Network, Xbox Live Arcade

Other Reviews In This Series:

MMMM2MM3MM4MM5MM6MM7MM8MM&BassMM9MM10

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: Mega Man 9

mega-man-9-5B1-5D

As my week of vacation comes to a close, I bring you the next installment in the original Mega Man series. Mega Man 9. This game was released nearly a decade after the original Japanese version of Mega Man & Bass. So, keep in mind that it had actually been quite some time since players were treated to an original Mega Man title.

As one would expect, it’s been a long time since Mega Man was called to action. Things have quiet. When suddenly, Robots all over the world start going crazy. Dr. Wily appears on TV claiming that he has nothing to do with it. He asks for donations so he can build a robot army to defend the public against what he believes is an attack by Dr. Light. As you might expect, as you progress thru the game, the truth about the situation is uncovered and the outcome should come as no surprise.

megaman9stageselect

This game was initially released as a downloadable title on the Wii, and then later on both the Xbox 360 and PS3. I own it on both the Wii and 360. There’s no noticeable difference at all between the three ports. Regardless of your platform, there’s also downloadable content available for the game. Special stages, increased difficulty and even the option to play the game as Proto Man.

One of the first things you’ll probably notice about the game is it’s retro look. Mega Man 9 was created as an homage to the earliest games in the series. This means that despite the modern systems it was released on, it looks, sounds, and feels like an 8-bit title straight out of the late 80s.

Keeping with tradition, this Mega Man game is extremely difficult. So, I’ll be honest and admit that I had no desire whatsoever to play the “superhero mode” (increased difficulty).

I actually bought and played this when it came out in 2008, and then again this week. All in all, I have to say, Capcom did a wonderful job of capturing the old school feel of the original Mega Man games. Right down to fake and cheesy virtual game-box art.

Mega_man_9_Image_07-5B1-5D

Difficulty: Very Difficult  – This game is throwback both in look and feel and in difficulty. I can picture a sadistic Capcom employee giggling with glee at the brutal and punishing design of their new retro title. This is also very apparent in the achievements/trophies available for the 360 and PSN version. You have been warned.

Story: Same old same old, but this time – it’s got a lot of old school charm to it. Keep in mind, this game was made to be a homage to the original titles of yesteryear. So keeping with the running joke is more than appropriate.

Originality: As odd as this may sound, the originality here is by not changing anything. Capcom could have released a new fancy HD Mega Man title, but instead they chose to go back to their roots and produce an emulated 8-bit game. That took some guts, and it paid off well in the end.

Soundtrack: I don’t think anything will ever touch the MM2 and 3 soundtracks. But this one is certainly not bad. The music is certainly fitting and groovy at time, but there’s nothing here that’s very memorable.

Fun: Honestly, if you played the old games, you’ve seen it all before. I found the fun here to reside in the trip down memory lane the game brings. The old graphics and sound are spot on. In a way, even the maddening difficulty makes for a nice nostalgic experience.

Graphics: You can’t really make a judgment here. Despite the modern technology, this game was designed to look old. Something that is actually probably not too easy these days. Considering the goal, the designers did a wonderful job.

Playcontrol: Having played this title on two of the three systems, I have to say I’m impressed. No issues on either controller and everything feels natural.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – This is great example of a retro throwback title. I would love to see game companies do stuff like this more. It is my understanding that MM9 was quite a success for Capcom. At the time of this writing the game is very inexpensive on both Wii and 360. It’s actually free right now for Playstation plus subscribers.

Currently available on: WiiWare, Playstation Network, Xbox Live Arcade

Other Reviews In This Series:

MMMM2MM3MM4MM5MM6MM7MM8MM&BassMM9MM10

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 Judgment

cover-5B1-5D

Finally, I am proud to present my review for the last official title in the original Castlevania timeline. Castlevania Judgment. This game is a radical departure for the previous entries. What we have here, is a 3D fighter using traditional Castlevania characters.

The storyline for this title is pretty weak. It seems that an evil being known as the Time Reaper has been sent thru time by a being known as Galamoth  to destroy Dracula. The intention is to take over his power and with it, destroy all of existence. To avoid this tragedy, a mysterious time traveler known only as Aeon  (although the dialogue in the game hints greatly that Aeon may be the same person as St. Germain from CoD) has wandered through time to assemble the greatest vampire hunters in history to thwart this evil plan. I suppose if you’re willing to really stretch the imagination, this whole time rift concept could somehow explain the transition between this classic CV timeline and new world presented in Lord of Shadow?

What this really does is provide an excuse to have various characters from the Castlevania timeline defeat each other in battle. During the course of the game, you can choose from the following characters:

Simon, Dracula, Death, Golem, Carmilla, Grant, Trevor, Sypha, Maria, Alucard. Eric LeCarde, Cornell, Shanoa, and Aeon.

castlevania-judgement-12-5B1-5D

Each character has a very loose storyline associated with them, when the game starts, only Simon and Alucard are playable. As you complete each character’s storyline, new characters and accessories are unlocked. I should note here, that if you own Order of Ecclesia for the DS, you can link your Wii and DS together for earn some unlockable items and an early unlock of Shanoa as a playable character.

Several modes of gameplay exist for both single players and multiplayers. Admittedly, I had a lot of fun with the game. It’s certainly not the best fighting title I’ve ever played, but it does have it’s moments.

Overall, it is what it is. As long as you don’t take this title too seriously, it’s well worth the price. In my opinion, it’s best experienced with a friend.

castlevania_judgement_6-5B1-5D

Difficulty: Adaptable – Single player mode offers various difficulty settings. It should go without mention that when playing against others, the difficulty will vary depending on their skill.

Story: The background for the game is nothing more than a weak excuse to throw all the characters together. Normally unforgivable, I can turn a blind eye. This game is really nothing more than a fan service.

Originality: While there’s certainly nothing original about a brawl-style multiplayer fighting game at this point, it’s certainly a first for the series. Sadly, I don’t think the mass public was too impressed with the attempt.

Soundtrack: Probably the best thing about this game. The soundtrack features classic CV music completely redone and in CD quality. Probably one of my most played CV soundtrack albums.

Fun: Despite my many eye rolls and complaints, I found the game to very fun. Completing storylines, unlocks new content. This continues all the way to the end of the game. The unlockable accessories are cute, but only really serve a purpose when playing against other (to customize the look of your character).

Graphics: Surprisingly, pretty good. Lots of interesting visuals and effect. I have to give the game praise in this department.

Playcontrol: This varies A LOT depending on the control scheme you go with. You can play with the classic remote and nunchuck if you’re feeling adventurous. Personally, I find the best experience to lie with a classic controller pro. I feel like the title was really designed with this controller in mind.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – While there’s certainly a lot about this game to be grumpy about. It is pretty fun multiplayer title. My son and I had a lot of fun. If you don’t take it too seriously, this is quite an enjoyable game. The Castlevania characters and settings set it apart from other games of it’s type.

Currently available on: Nintendo Wii

Other Reviews In This Series:

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

LoS Los: Mirror of FateLoS II

Review: Castlevania Adventure ReBirth

Castlevania-The-Adventure-Rebirth-Wii-0-255B1-255D

This is a commonly overlooked title in the Castlevania archives. The Adventure ReBirth is a WiiWare download available for purchase through the Wii Shop. It is a modern day remake of the original Castlevania Adventure. However, other than sharing the name and the lead character there’s not much of a resemblance.

castlevania-the-adventure-rebirth-20100107034107408_640w-5B1-5D

This title is sort of a retro nod to some of the more classic “stage platformers” of the series. It also takes a queue from Rondo of Blood by incorporating a hidden key/locked door mechanic that will grant the player to new areas of the level and sometimes hard-to-find powerups. However, the overall feel and gameplay mechanics are straight out of the original Castlevania.

Compared to most modern games, this title is very short, only 6 levels.  But then again, it’s only meant to be a nod to the roots of the series, and for the cheap price, there really no room to complain.

TAR_Stage_5_Boss_1-5B1-5D

1094: Castlevania: Lament of Innocence – Leon Belmont vs. Walter & Death

1476: Castlevania III — Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades, Grant, and Alucard vs. Dracula.
1479: Castlevanis: Curse of Darkness – Hector vs. Dracula
1576: Castlevania Adventure, Adventure ReBirth – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula
1591: Castlevania Adventure II – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula
1691: Castlevania, Super Castlevania, Chronicles – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula
1698: Castlevania II – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula
1748: Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance – Juste Belmont vs. Dracula
1792: Castlevania: Rondo of Blood — Richter Belmont and Maria Renard vs. Dracula
1797: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – Alucard vs. Dracula
181X: Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia – Shanoa vs Barlowe and Dracula

1830: Castlevania: Circle of the Moon – Nathan Graves vs Dracula
1844/1852: Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness – Cornell, Henry, Reinhardt, & Carrie vs. Dracula
1897: Dracula the novel
1917: Castlevania: Bloodlines – John Morris and Eric Lecarde vs. Dracula
1944: Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin – Jonathan Morris vs Brauner & Dracula
2035: Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow – Soma Cruz vs. Castlevania
2036: Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow – Soma Cruz vs. Dark Lord Candidates & Menace

 

Difficulty: Adaptable – For the first time that I can recall, this title offers a selectable difficulty level. In addition, you can also choose how many lives you begin with. In my opinion, this is welcome. This allows younger players and new players to the series to get a taste of what the classic games were all about without being over frustrated.  There’s also a hidden level select option in the main menu that allows to pick up where you left off.

Story: Nothing new here, this is just a alternate version of the Castlevania Adventure storyline.

Originality: While this game is play-for-play a flashback to the classic CV titles, there’s something about the presentation of it that feels a little fresh. While we have old school gameplay mechanics, the modern 2D graphics and enhanced sound really do feel kind of original. It’s definitely a mixed bag.

Soundtrack: No complaints, but nothing really stands out either. An average score here.

Fun: Most of my enjoyment with this title came from the nostalgia and the visuals. It was a nice change of pace after the last several titles in the series. I got to zone my brain out a bit and just whip stuff.

Graphics: This game has an intentional 16bit feel to it. However, it does seem a bit more polished and colorful than most actual 16 bit Castlevania titles. I think Konami was aiming for a cross between old school and new school with the visual. I feel they succeeded.

Playcontrol: Pick your poison. You can play with a number of control schemes. Remote and Nunchuck, Classic controller, or just sideways Wii Remote. The first options gets a little tiresome… whip swinging is a lot of work. Personally, I found the best experience was to simply use a single Wii remote turned sideways. Everything feels natural and is very responsive.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Overall, this game is a fun little throwback and a little bit of a fanservice from Konami. There’s nothing groundbreaking here to be sure, but that was really never the point. The “ReBirth” line was a trend with Konami for a bit, allowing them to make modern versions of some classic games and I think the formula worked well with this title.

Currently available on: Nintendo Wii Shop – WiiWare

Other Reviews In This Series:

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

LoS Los: Mirror of FateLoS II

Review: Xenoblade Chronicles

xenobladechronicles_NAbox-5B1-5D

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

For the last 5 or 6 years, I’ve really neglected my single player console games and focused more on online multiplayer titles. It’s been a while since a single player game has hooked my the way Xenoblade did. This is a classic JRPG is every sense of the word. The storyline is deep and filled with twists and turns. The characters are memorable, the locales are exotic and beautiful. The music is simply top notch. The soundtrack is one of my favorites of all time. It has all the elements that a true role playing game should strive to achieve.

xenoblade-artwork-7-5B1-5D

The game takes place largely on a world known as Bionis. You see, the Bionis is really an enormous sleeping titan. A titan who is engaged in an eternal struggle with another titanic entity, the mechanical Mechonis.

xenoblade-bionis-mechonis-battle-5B1-5D

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

This game features a vast world filled with what seems like endless content. Aside from the main storyline, there are more sidequests that you can imagine. On top of that, your actions can affect the relationship between non-player characters. These affinity levels can have a major impact on the game as time goes on.

xenoblade-chronicles-gameplay-3-5B1-5D1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Available today on: Wii

Operation Rainfall – Why It Is Important

It is August 22nd, 2012. Yesterday, I received in the mail, my copy of The Last Story. I couldn’t be happier.

The Last Story is a Wii title that was released in Japan some time ago, but is only just now seeing the light of day here in the United States. This wouldn’t have happened without an online movement known as Operation Rainfall.

A while back, three great games were introduced in Japan. These games are: Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower.  Later, these games were introduced to the European audience. However, Nintendo of America showed little to no interest in bringing these games to the American audience. All these of these titles have received rave reviews and many gamers in the US eagerly awaited their release.

Initially, Nintendo made it clear that for a variety of reasons they had no intention of localizing these titles. Once it became obvious that their minds would not be easily swayed, the Operation Rainfall movement was born. What started a group of IGN forum users soon became a much bigger phenomenon. Operation Rainfall began a social media blitz, that is still ongoing to this day.

Rainfall had it’s first success with the announcement that Xenoblade Chronicles would in fact be released in the US as a Gamestop exclusive title. Finally, after almost two years the American audience received what is considered by many to be one of the best RPGs in a decade. The game rocketed to the top of charts. Outselling even the expectations of it’s fanbase. Pre-orders for the title came with a breathtaking book of original artwork designed for the game.

xenoblade_chronicles_art_cover-5B1-5D

I purchased Xenoblade upon it’s release and I have been nothing but pleased. This game has sucked me in completely. Everything from the environment, to the characters have me hooked. The music composed for the title is some of the best I’ve heard. I listen to it on my iPod when I’m at work. It’s magical. I’ve been playing it almost exclusively since it’s release and there is so much content packed into this title that I’m still only about 3/4ths of the way through.

Not long after Xenoblade’s success, it was announced that Xseed Software would distribute the North American release of The Last Story. This is a title that holds a special place in my heart. It was created by the original inventor a Final Fantasy, a series that I have cherished for more than half of my life. I have high hopes for it, and once I’ve finished my time with Xenoblade, this will be my next focus. Like Xenoblade, the first run of this title comes with an artbook and a limited edition game soundtrack. My only complaint is the soundtrack only features seven tracks, it is not the complete game score.

TheLastStoryLimitedEdition-5B1-5D

That brings up to Pandora’s Tower. As of today there is still no official North American release planned for this game. Operation Rainfall is preparing a final-effort pitch to Nintendo of America. Beginning on August 31st, a three-day blitz with be launched. Supporters are urged to email, message and call Nintendo to politely ask that this title be brought to the USA. With sales of the previous two titles doing better than expected, it is our hope that Nintendo will finally see the light and give gamers what they are asking for.

This campaign is important because aside from these three titles, there are a number of great games that never see the light of day in the US for a variety of reasons. I’ve recently reviewed Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels, this is a prime example of a game that was held back because it was assumed American audiences would not find it favorable. For many years, North American gamers went without Final Fantasy II and III for the same reasons.

As a fan of the Wizardry series, I would love nothing more than to sink my teeth into those mysterious Wizardry Gaiden and Neo Wizardry titles that have so far been exclusive to Japan.

I would urge you to read the following post from Operation Rainfall and participate. I’ll be all three days. If the campaign is sucessfull, Op Rainfall will distribute a special collectors sleeve designed to hold all three titles.

Operation Rainfall: The Final Push

 

Evolution

NintendoStack

So far I’ve written about my experiences growing up with the original 8bit Nintendo. But naturally, like many other kids who came of age in the 80s and 90s, I was also the proud owner of it’s successor the Super Nintendo.

The SNES was a thing of glory to behold. Better graphics, better sound… I mean you could actually hear real speech in like 10 second fragments!!! This was a big deal. And the games that were available! Super Mario World, Super Metroid, Zelda: A Link to the Past…. It was enough to make your head pop. It’s hard to make a statement like this, but I daresay that the Super Nintendo was just as important in the mythos that is now legacy gaming as the original NES. I look at the NES as the seed and root and the SNES as the vine and blossom of Nintendo’s success.

Some of the greatest RPGs of all time saw the light of day on this box of 16-bit goodness. In fact, the SNES has been hailed by many as the greatest RPG platform of all time. Not only did Nintendo’s first party titles and various RPGs flourish on this new system, but the early 90s saw the rise of two-player fighting games, these also soared into popularity on the Super Nintendo. Games like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter II only further cemented the success of the console.

As I mentioned in another post, around the mid-90s my attention waned a bit from console gaming. I became more interested in social activities. Any gaming I did during this period was in front of a PC. My consoles sat on a shelf collecting dust while I learned the ways of new games like DOOM, Quake, and Diablo.

In 1996, the Nintendo 64 was released. By this point Nintendo was so far off my radar I barely noticed. I vaguely remember seeing an ad for Mario 64 and I thought to myself “Wow. Would ya look at that!” To date, the N64 is probably my most neglected era of gaming. I have since gone back and experienced many of these great games on the Wii, but I feel like I missed being in the middle of all the action. It is a pox on my gaming record to be sure.

Around the same time, Nintendo faced it’s first serious competitor: The Sony Playstation. Sony’s console made the move from cartridge-based games to CD-ROM. My old roomate had one and after seeing it for the first time, I remember wondering if Nintendo’s days of dominance were over. It certainly seemed that way. The N64 fell in popularity over time and the Playstation earned a much larger audience. Third-party developers jumped ship in record numbers. The Final Fantasy series moved exclusively to Sony’s console. As did many games from Capcom and Konami.

Sony followed up their success in 2000 with the release of the Playstation 2. This console changed everything. It was leaps about bounds above anything seen before. Many PC defectors, like myself, were lured back to the living room thanks to the PS2. In attempt to strike back, Nintendo released the GameCube. It was a cute looking device that accepted odd little mini-discs. The GameCube was responsible for some good titles, but by this point it seemed that Nintendo has officially lost the battle and the home console scene now belonged to Sony. Nintendo was able to weather the storm due to the popularity of their handheld gaming devices.

It was around this time that Microsoft decided to enter the scene. They brought the Xbox to the table and for the first time ever the console battlefield included 3 main competitors. It was during this time that I stepped back on the console scene. I had been recently married, and my love for Final Fantasy had been rekindled. I purchased a PS2 and caught up on many of great games I missed over the years. My wife came home one day with a GameCube and through it I was able to get reacquainted with many of Nintendo’s offerings. I was slowly on my way back to being a full-fledged gamer again.

2005 was the year that console gaming came back full force. Microsoft unveiled the Xbox 360. For the first time a modern game console was combined with the power of the Internet. Sales surged and Sony’s dominance took a hit. To retaliate, Sony struck back with the powerful but pricey Playstation 3. I believe that price alone is what kept many people away from the PS3 initially. Due to this, the Xbox retained the top spot in many households for a time.

By this time, I was fully back in my gamer persona. Nostalgia had worked it’s magic on me and I watched Nintendo’s next move with baited breath. Rumors had been flying around the Internet of Nintendo’s new project; codenamed “Revolution”. Everyone was talking. I remember the guy at my local Gamestop almost salivating as he claimed to have the inside scoop:

“I’ve seen it! It’s a pyramid. On each facet of the pyramid is a slot for a different cartridge!! There’s one side for Nintendo, one for Super Nintendo, N64, Gamecube, and then their new discs!!!” He explained.

Naturally, I had to point out that pyramids only had four sides, but that didn’t seem to matter to him.

What Nintendo did produce was the now famous Wii. Like many others, I was put off by the name. “Play with my Wii” jokes flew around the office. But I was intrigued by the new motion controls. I remember thinking “this will either be revolutionary or a complete bomb”.

The Wii was a smash hit, outselling everything else. The secret to it’s success was it’s appeal to all audiences. Heck, even my parents bought one! Thru the Virtual Console feature, new gamers were able to experience classic NES and SNES games that they had never seen before. Nintendo had returned!

That brings us to today. The three-way console race is still on and it’s hard to say who dominates. The beautiful thing is, it doesn’t matter anymore. Games are released across multiple platforms and these days and it makes little difference which you choose. I personally own all three systems and I enjoy each of them.

Now that we are all caught up, the main focus of this blog can finally begin. It is in this world that the modern gamer finds themselves. If you’re like me, you work full time job. You have a family to raise, and life away from the computer or television screen. Time is limited. You love games, and you still want to experience them all, what do you do? I mean think about it. There’s new great titles being released every day. Now with things like Xbox Live, Playstation Network and the Virtual Console almost any legacy title you want is only a download away. It can be frustrating.

The answer is time management and focus. I’ve learned this the hard way. I also find a lot of my free time sucked away by MMO games. This blog is going to be my personal chronicle of my journey through the world of gaming. I’m going to be reliving the games of my youth as well as tackling the games of today. I hope you stay tuned.