Archive for 2007

I live again!

I took yesterday off.

After 6 days straight of working nearly 10 hours a day, it was quite nice and I feel very refreshed.

Part of this is game choice.  See, Odin Sphere is at one end of the “RPG” spectrum (I feel calling it an RPG is a charity): It’s very engaging, but perhaps overly so.  The game’s focus is more on action and less on thought.  Decisions must be split second (or you will be split… in a second?).

After finishing Steambot Chronicles, which was very laid-back, I went for a game that’s even more so.  One of my new favorites, Wild ARMs.

WA was never really on the top of my list until about two years ago.  I found it for $13 and went for it, remembering vaguely it was kind of neat.  As I went through the game, I was struck – by plot, (sprite) graphical style, and, most of all, music.  The intro video enchanted me even more so than it had before, and the fact that the game starts off incredibly depressing (Rody, of course, has good reason to be depressed – as does Jack/Zack.  Cecilia’s reason comes soon enough) only kept me engaged in the story.  I mean, most games start off with a character’s hometown burning or them being expelled from said hometown (a la Rody, but it’s not his hometown), but never manage to drive the idea home.  I mean, look at Secret of Mana – the main character just kind of wanders off on his mostly-merry travels.  But the way that Wild ARMs truly begins – as the credits roll, during a funeral procession – truly touched me in a way that few games have.

And so WA made it onto my list.  And now I see it as quite possibly the most relaxing game I have.  Since battles are turn-based, I can take my time.  Few puzzles are so fast-paced that I really have to try very hard, but they are tricky enough to keep me engaged.  And, of course, almost all of the music is relaxing.

This is why it succeeds for me where Odin Sphere has largely failed – a good game should be a balance of activity and thought.  Odin Sphere has a strong emphasis on activity – combat – and what little thought there is involves figuring out how in the blazes to fit that last Muggle Seed into my overstuffed inventory.  In this respect, it makes the same mistake too many games – Riviera, Final Fantasy Legend, and Suikoden – have made: it forces the player to choose what to lose when they almost certainly don’t want to lose anything.  I have a math background, so I know – Knapsack problems are tough, especially if you have to invent values for things on the spot.

To be fair, Wild ARMs has little activity, and much thought.  Only a few puzzles must be done quickly.  In even the toughest battles, you can take your time.  This is, to my mind, what RPGs can do best: make battles tough, make the player think, but give them as much time as they want.  And give them nice music while you’re at it, right?


It ends now!

I beat Steambot Chronicles yesterday. That game was impressive enough in some ways for me to write a review immediately.

To summarize: Despite being in almost all other ways a mediocre game, the amount of choice present makes it really fun to play up to a certain point. If you like Harvest Moon, you will like Steambot. It’s nearly everything Harvest Moon should have become five years ago. Dozens of ways to make money (though only a few are viable).

I went out and got a new TV yesterday. It’s a 26-inch flatscreen. I’m upgrading from a 19-inch CRT with only the coax input working to a 720px widescreen with composite input. So far I’m much more impressed by Odin Sphere, but I’ve only played that and Steambot on it so far. I’m looking forward to playing something like Wild ARMs on it, weird as it sounds. The biggest difference I’ve noticed is that the text is incredibly sharp, and colors are much better defined. Any sprite-based game should look much better. Now I just need a composite input for my SNES…

In terms of other games, I’m still playing Genso Sangokushi 2 (Fantasy Sango 2). Observe.

Lord Yuan Shu shows his powers of delegation.

Yuan Shu: To think you all made it this far! Guards! Deal with these nuisances right away!

If you noticed Lady Wu’s thread, he ends up getting burned for being a bit too close to his advisor. In any case, the game is certainly continuing and I’m still enjoying it. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it, but I didn’t even notice some of the core features of GS2 until a dozen or so hours into the game. I would love to see it translated (I could possibly do it but I don’t have the hacking know-how and I’d need to shore up a LOT on my kanji), because some of the bits are really nice – the item creation in particular is useful and well-done, if not as deliciously random as in Star Ocean: The Second Story. You upgrade skills by allocating points to them (the higher the skill, the more to level up) and the game has great strategic depth as there are 4 paths you can take for each of the 7 (!) sub-characters Miel (as Lady Wu eloquently named her) can become. Not to mention the fact that some skills are really formations that affect your stats… My only complaint is I don’t have a good heal-all ability, just a couple positive status effects (Armor up is really useful) and Miel’s weak heal-one-person skill. I went down the wrong branch for the lettuce kid (whatever you call him), so I just now got the heal-all skill for him and I bet it’s weak.

Since I just recently figured out how to take screenshots easily, I will likely post many more, as GS2 is a beautiful game.

Also, I’m working on a translation of the NES adventure game Akira, based on the anime movie of the same name. In the past week, I had the chance to read the manga and see the movie. The manga is so much better that I can’t imagine anyone liking the movie – the manga just has so much more depth, while in the movie, everything is horribly compressed and much of the original vision is sadly lost. I really hope no one ever tries to condense Three Kingdoms into anything less than 20 hours.

And, sadly, my work-lots time is not what ends now. I will try to keep updating the site once every few days, but no guarantees.


Mini book reviews

Every once in a while, I find a random fantasy or sci-fi book at a used bookstore and read it, simply based on the name or how the cover looks.

Sometimes this only ends in disappointment – for example, Klein’s Starmaster’s Gambit I found to be bland and not particularly cohesive.

My last random purchase was Mickey Zucker Reichert’s The Last Renshai.  The first book was not incredibly impressive at first, but I sometimes have overly high standards.  By the time I reached the end, there were more than a few twists that completely blindsided me, and I really enjoyed it.

I found out the book was part of a trilogy, and picked up the other two, The Western Wizard and Child of Thunder.   I actually read through them quickly enough I don’t really remember where the one left off and the next started.  In any case, they were all three enjoyable yet not like most fantasy.  I’ve read some of George R.R. Martin’s incredibly dark and depressing works, where a character will as soon die as become a hero, and the old villains will become the new heroes.  Likewise, I’ve read Salvatore’s intoxicatingly positive Icewind Dale, where all the main characters seem impervious to all challenges.  The Renshai trilogy strikes a good medium – most characters are in fact not invincible (with the exception of one of the main characters).  The narrative changes characters often, giving a good idea of what is happening on different sides of the continent.  Though occasionally cheesy (honestly a necessity for me to enjoy any fantasy novel), it’s a really fun read.   I would like to talk about the characters, but that would spoil much of the first novel – suffice it to say almost everyone is refreshingly three-dimensional.

Though I would hesitate to recommend it over, say, Brust’s Vlad Taltos chronicles, or Zelazny’s Amber series, The Renshai series is definitely up there.


More random stuff

This doesn’t really fit anywhere (in fact it could fit in all three of my major categories – books, games, and japan stuff) but here it is anyway.

(I’m too lazy to edit the image again – the strip is titled “Take and Run” and it’s by (probably – name renderings are odd) Chikusa Hiroko.

Translated ACF M

It took me about half an hour to do this, because I’m not very good with image editors. The fact that I only took a half an hour shows, and I apologize.  If anyone else knos how better to do all the image modification stuff, I’d love to translate.  I just don’t have the expertise.

To extrapolate more on the source; this is from a 4-koma manga (4-koma being a style- Azumanga Daioh is probably the most famous one in the US – similar to a standard throwaway comic strip). More specifically, if you can’t tell, this is from a 4-koma manga about Wild Arms: Alter Code F. I’ve had 5 full strips (and a few very blurry others) on my hard drive since I took a few minutes with a scanner to grab them about 5 or 6 months ago.

I’m actually really happy with the manga itself, as it pokes fun at dozens of RPG cliches as well as at the ACF plot itself from time to time. It has a variety of artists/authors, some of which I really like too.  And it wasn’t too expensive either.

If anyone wants to see the originals, let me know. I’ve been meaning to talk about these for a while.


In which I learn neither plot nor polish is everything

I’ve pretty much given up on Suikoden Tactics.

Which is kind of weird.  I want to find out what happens in the plot.  It’s well-done, just a little bit of suspense here and there.  The problem is the huge number of non plot-related battles.  You get ambushed by fish-people here, bandits there – I mean, you’d think they wouldn’t attack a camp of 40+ seasoned warriors.  I’d go for merchants, myself.  It’s like Darwin’s off on vacation.

The game gets really tedious.  Especially when you’re like me and you keep putting Pablo in your team when you should know better.  The last time the guy died, it was 25 minutes into a battle.  So of course I didn’t want to keep going.  I turned it off and haven’t played the game since.

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