Saturday, February 28, 2009

My Disposable Income: February 2009

So hey guys, it's the end of the month and you know what that means! Yup, time for me to talk about stuff that I paid money for, and my subsequent opinions of those things!

And I sure did purchase some things!

See which things after the jump.

Seriously, I'm at a loss for pre-list filler text today, just click "read more".

Retro Game Challenge

I'd been looking forward to this title for a while. The basic premise is this: a guy who really likes oldschool video games turns you into an eight year old and teleports you to the 1980's, where you you're told to beat a bunch of challenges he gives you as play an assortment of 8-bit parody/tributes to the games that existed back then. You've got your Galaga-like space shooter, your action-puzzle-platformer that's kind of like "Flicky" for the Genesis, and even a full fledged ancient grind-and-dungeon-crawl RPG, amongst others. When the game was released in Japan it was based off of a TV show about a guy who tries to beat a bunch of old video games, but since that show hasn't been localized over here, most of the references to the show have been stripped from the US version of the game. Anyways, I finally got it around the middle of the month, and I wasn't disappointed one bit with my purchase!

Not only does the faux nostalgia and playful pokes and prods at games of my childhood work their magic awesomely, but most of the games in Retro Game Challenge are also actually really well designed. They manage to feel like authentic games made in the 1980's while still being really fun. And there's a lot of parts of the main game, I mean the part between all the 8-bit fake games, that make you go "oh that is kind of neat and clever! I mean, I want to get back to the actual video games but this is neat and I appreciate it!". As you play the retro games, you'll unlock gaming magazines that you can then read in-game, and they'll have strategy guides for the games you're currently playing, and previews for "new" games that you'll unlock later on. There's like five previews for the RPG title because it keeps getting delayed. See, it's cute little things like that that make the game even more enjoyable!

The game has its flaws. For example there's an 8-bit racing game called "Rally King", and uh remember how much 8-bit racing games actually suck? Unfortunately this game emulates terrible games of the 80's just as well as the good ones. Also there is a little english voice acting, and it is awful. Luckily, they're just short sound clips and they're easy to tune out.

I've already beaten the game, and for the most part I had a lot of fun, even though it runs a bit short with only eight games. There's a sequel coming out soon in Japan with even more fakey-retro-time-amazings, and I hope it gets brought over to the US at some point in the near-ish future.

Lost Odyssey

Now, I've actually played Lost Odyssey before, right after it came out around this time last year. The thing is that back then it was only a rental. I was excited, but hesitant to full-out buy it. On one hand, it was a next-gen fantasy RPG from the father of Final Fantasy, and unlike his first Xbox 360 effort, Blue Dragon, this new game didn't involve Dragon Ball Z's Akira Toriyama signing up for the project and using the same five character designs he's been using for the past 20 years. On the other hand, 60 dollars was a lot of money to spend, especially since I was close to broke at the time from just buying my Xbox 360. So I decided to play it safe and rent it first to see how much I liked it. And it was a fun JRPG with some awesome gameplay features, decent but not great dialogue/voice acting, and a fairly cliche storyline that was still fresh enough to feel tolerable.

However, right around the time I was supposed to return my rental I came across a part of the game I absolutely HATED, which resulted in me deciding not to spend the full 60 freaking dollars on it. Kind of a harsh decision in retrospect, considering how much I enjoyed the game otherwise, but maybe game developers should learn this lesson: if you are going to put something potentially dramatic and touching in your game, say maybe a character death... for the love of god please do not follow it up with FUNERAL MINIGAMES OH GOD THE MEMORIES ARE STILL PAINFUL.

Anyways, after that little tragedy I was never going to pay full price for the game, mostly out of principle for a game element so stupid that upon sitting through it, my brain managed to climb out of my skull and punch me in the face. But recently I was walking through Best Buy, and I saw that the game's price had lowered to a modest 30 dollars. On top of that, I had two Best Buy cards that, when combined, lowered the price of my purchase by 20 dollars. And that was when I caved in and walked out of the store with my 10 dollar Xbox 360 game.

I started the game over and I'm about 5 hours in, and man there were actually a lot of great things about this game, and I'm glad I'm playing it again. I plan to do my best at trudging through the offending part of the game this time... I guess I'll just have to brace myself for a squishy smack in the nose from my angry cerebellum.

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII

This was an interesting purchase for me. Not because it's Final Fantasy, because I think we've already established my weakness for that franchise. No, the main reason this was an odd buy is because this is a PSP game, and I don't actually own a PSP.

"But Thores," you're saying, "that's dumb. Like, really dumb. You're stupid." And I say YOUR FACE is stupid. I also say that I actually planned on buying a PSP alongside the game this month. The initial reason I held off is that I want a PSP-2000. The store I bought Crisis Core at only had the PSP-3000. It's a newer model, and that would usually mean better, but unfortunately that isn't the case here. The 3000 has screen issues, visible "scan lines" you can see blinking on the otherwise pretty screen when you're playing certain games. The 2000 doesn't have that issue, and it also has a better battery life. In fact, the only disadvantage the older model has is that the screen isn't capable of being as bright as the 3000's. But I didn't really care about that! The brightness level the 2000 can pull off is just fine from what I'd seen, so the plan was to buy Crisis Core, a 4 GB PSP memory card that I also bought but am not dedicating a whole section to because it would be about as long as this bold text you're reading now, and then go home and order the older, better model of the PSP off of Amazon.

And when I came home I checked my gaming news and found out that rumors were flying around that Sony's about to announce a new redesign for the PSP, one that would potentially improve upon and eliminate the problems of all the previous models, and also look really nifty. Last time there were PSP redesign rumors flying around, the PSP-3000 was announced a couple of weeks later. So now I'm playing the waiting game! I figure if the next big game conference passes by and nothing new regarding the PSP hardware is announced, then I'll just go ahead and buy the 2000... and then promptly poop everywhere in anger as the PSP-4000 is announced exactly one day later.

Oh yeah anyways Crisis Core is a neat game I want to play.

Hunter x Hunter Volume 25

One of these days I'm going to have to make a full fledged gigantic post about this series, but for now here's a brief covering of the basics: Hunter x Hunter is one of my favorite mangas of all time, and the only one that I still read these days. It's set in a world a lot like our modern world, except there are magic beasts and amazing undiscovered treasures, and also a whole lot more badasses. Of course, access to those three things is mostly exclusive to Hunters, the most sought after profession in the world, and also the hardest to get a license for, seeing as the Hunter Exam is only once a year and generally involves a lot of people dying. The opening of the story involves the protagonist of the series, an 11 year old named Gon, applying to take the Hunter Exam so he can meet his father, apparently a legendary Hunter himself. The story sounds simple enough, but the characters and adventures that result from it are flat out amazing and make for some of the best manga I have ever, ever read, especially in the earlier volumes. It reminds me of the original Dragon Ball sometimes, and I loved Dragon Ball, because it was amazing and unique then, despite my earlier musings on Toriyama's creative abilities now.

Right now it's still good enough that I buy a new volume every time one comes out, as you can see from me purchasing the issues this month pretty much the instant it released, but it's definitely dipped in quality. Using my example from a few sentences ago, if early Hunter x Hunter can be likened to the original Dragon Ball, then the latest volumes of series are a lot more like Dragon Ball Z. Don't get me wrong, it is much better than Dragon Ball Z, but the series just isnt as amazing and charming as back when Gon took his Hunter Exam for the first time. It's still good times though, and I still have a very large soft spot for the series as a whole. I'm just bummed because for some retarded reason, Volume 26 doesn't come out till January of 2010. What the butt?

And speaking of butts, that's the end of my post!


I mean bye!
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Friday, February 6, 2009

Late to the Party: My Final Fantasy XI Impressions

Hey, geddit!? Get that pun I just made? See, because you can have a "party" of people in an RPG, right? But "Late to the Party" is a phrase that means something besides that! I just wrote something with two meanings! Yeah you can leave that Nobel Prize for FANTASTIC WRITING FROM A SEXY GUY on the desk.

Anyways, as I mentioned last week, I bought my first MMORPG recently. Final Fantasy XI arrived in the mail this week and I spent most of Wednesday playing it. Like I've said before, I bought the game because I could play it on something besides my abysmal computer, and because I have a pretty big soft spot for the Final Fantasy series. It's the only numbered game in the installment that I had yet to play (besides maybe FFV, which I actually forget whether or not I tried), and the concept of riding around Chocobos and fighting Tonberries in a new world crafted by Square-Enix's capable design team was definitely a promising one.

So in my first 10 hours or so of gameplay, does it live up to that promise? Keep reading and find out.

I got the game on Tuesday night, but I didn't actually get to play at that point due to the install time. See, I'd gotten not only the main game, but all the expansions, and on top of that I had missed about six years worth of system updates, so my 360 had to download a pretty hefty amount of material in one sitting! It took about 4 or 5 hours total, so I slept through that process and when I woke up Wednesday morning, the full game was installed and I was ready to play.

Unfortunately the first thing I noticed about the game was a bit disappointing: the character creator is TERRIBLE. It started out not so bad and fairly standard: you choose from one of the game's five available races, and for three of those races you could also choose a gender. Humes are the standard Human race, Elvaan are basically elves, Mithra is the catgirl race, Galka is the "big beefy hairy man" race, and Tarutarus are basically what would happen if Bilbo Baggins got really, really drunk one day and made babies with an adorable teddy bear. I chose a Tarutaru male, firstly because they seemed to be the only race open to males that wasn't also a direct ripoff off WOW, and by extension Dungeons and Dragons, and by extension western fantasy in general. Secondly, because this race was "finely attuned to magic", and magic using classes are generally awesome. Thirdly, because AWW THEY ARE SO CUTE AND I COULD CUDDLE THEM TILL I DIE

Anyways I chose Tarutaru Male, and this is what I was offered for character customization. I could choose between six possible Faces. These selections didn't actually change the way my face looked at all, but rather modified my hairstyle. Then I could choose between two colors for each hairstyle. After that, ding! Character creation complete! That is AWFUL. Maybe other races have more variety but WOW. I think the funniest part for me was that they didn't just let you choose your own hair color, but had "Color A" and "Color B" for each selection. Your Tarutaru could have a blond ponytail and a white ponytail. You could have a shaggy hairdo that was either brown or red. So why is my Tarutaru apparently biologically incapable of having a red ponytail or a blond shag? Obviously the source of their mysterious innate magical abilities comes from their hair and how it doesn't want to be more than two different kinds of colors depending on their proximity to a hairtie.

But whatever, after I got over that I chose my Job Class, which would be pretty familiar pickings if you've ever played either FFIII or any of the Final Fantasy Tactics games: Warrior, Monk, White Mage, Black Mage, Red Mage, and Thief. After some heavy consideration I finally chose White Mage. Then after that it was a matter of choosing my name and starting location. After choosing the default Tarutaru hometown because it was foresty and neat looking, I was ready to explore the fast world of Vana'diel as Wigglewum, the Tarutaru White Mage!

Aww, look at him. He sure likes waving!

After a couple of cutscenes, and a few tutorial tasks, I was fighting bumblebees and leveling up like nobody's business. I've heard a lot of babble about how it is really really hard to level up in this game, and maybe that's true later on, but after a little more than a day's worth of gameplay I'm Level 8, which isn't necessarily WHOA FAST, but seems like a steady enough progression to me. Unfortunately, leveling up has been getting harder to do by myself, because not only am I a walking punching bag due to being a physically weak magic casting class, I'm also a healer and thus have no offensive magic abilities to speak of right now! Luckily, nearly all the other players I've bumped into are surprisingly nice. Really high level guys have invited me into their parties just to help me out, and even those who haven't would heal me if they noticed me fighting a tough monster, or revive me if they were passing by and noticed I was dead... which unfortunately has been a pretty common scenario lately. And they'd always do this for free! After hearing tales of WOW being pretty much Douchebag Central as a community, it's been really nice to play in this kind of environment.

Overall, the game's pretty neat, and I'm enjoying it so far. There is a part of me that wished the game felt more like a Final Fantasy, though. There are several things Squeenix could have done in this regard, like use one of the franchise's already existing worlds as a starting point. Ivalice, the world of Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy XII, seems like a perfect fit for an MMO. That world had several unique races, each suited for different various tasks and abilities, and there's already like a billion classes to work with. Instead FFXI features a new world, Vana'diel, and that's okay, except another name it could easily be called is Generic MMORPG Land aka We Took WOW And Made It Japanese, The Continent. I mean, you do have Chocobos running around and Mogs run your house (I haven't gotten to toy around with the house system just yet but it should be fun), and the game'll probably pick up more as I run into other Final Fantasy staples, like Cactuars and Cid. There's just part of me that wishes it felt even more unique.

Still, it's not as bad as I make it sound, and in the long run it's a small complaint considering what the game does have to offer. What it doesn't have in terms of unique storyline, it makes up for with neat gameplay features, a battle system that feels like Final Fantasy while still also being MMO-ish, and an enjoyable community to play in. And I'm enjoying myself a good deal, so it's obviously doing something right!

Anyways, those are just a few early impressions. As the free trial period wears on, we'll see if I get either addicted or bored. Right now I guess it could go either way, but I've been resisting turning away to go play some more during the entire writing of this blog post, so I guess that bodes pretty well for the former! I'll probably update you guys on my progress, I guess. If you want me to?
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