Archive for 2009

Go for Baroque

I don’t often avoid buying games when they catch my eye at a store.  But I had heard so much bad and so little good about Baroque that I avoided it for the better part of the year, despite wandering over and reading the back every other time I went to the local Gamestop (not too often).  Eventually I caved in and picked it up.

Very rarely has a game so short managed to occupy my mind for so long.  Baroque presents a set of mysteries large and small; a world that is at the same time both cohesive and shocking.  I have seen the first pair of Silent Hill games, which are the closest analogue I know of.  Both have strange things happen, but neither bothers with being either coherent or sensical (as I recall, it was either “oh, that’s just Silent Hill and weird things happen there” or “oh, it’s just some ancient demon god resurrecting” depending on your ending).  In the end, Baroque manages to top them because it has a coherent explanation for each weird thing that happens.  But it doesn’t explain things piece by piece except in small parts; the larger picture has to be derived from the events, down to exactly what a baroque is.  The differences between the Malkuth order and the Koriel group are lost in the fact that only rarely is either discussed; you interact with some members of each, but it takes a while to figure out what the goal of each is.  Presumably the less explored areas of the plot are explained in the manga.

But at the same time, Baroque is a short-ish Roguelike.  Played on Easy, it’s quite beatable within 15 hours and is not nearly as punishing as the usual; to hear reviews, Normal is crushing while Hard is… well, probably a lot like Rogue or Nethack.  Play on Easy and you’ll be rewarded with an easy (though occasionally frantic) game attached to an interesting plot.  Play on the other difficulties and I’ve no doubt you’ll find an interesting plot in between running for dear life through a dungeon that wants to kill you.

And yet, despite its depth, there is very little detail to Baroque at all!  The town only contains 6 NPCs; each has only a few significant lines.  Perhaps another half-dozen dwell in the Nerve Tower; most have still fewer lines.  Special events account for the majority of plot development, but even they would be numbered in paragraphs rather than pages.  Sting was able to create a moderately intense plot in Riviera: The Promised Land despite very little dialogue; they reproduced this in Baroque, and made the setting much more interesting to boot. (incidentally, it might be vice-versa, since Baroque was originally made in ’99).

The feel of the game is claustrophobic, oppressive, panicky.  It is at once both lonely like the Metroid games and as frantic as a shooter  My heart rate must’ve gone up by about 10 while playing the game; even Resident Evil and Silent Hill have places of respite.  Baroque has no such safe havens outside the main town; you can be just as easily poisoned from behind while you’re talking to an NPC in the Nerve Tower as anyplace else.  As a real-time action Roguelike, I would expect nothing less.

Baroque has an official website here; despite being in Japanese it is quite navigable without any knowledge of the language.  The link points to the character section, which is probably the most interesting; each has some nifty artwork, a blurb about the character, and a movie with one of their lines.

Another resource would be the scanlated first manga, which is all over the place; one example here.  The second and third volumes have not been translated, probably since they’re so damnably rare or the original translation group lost interest.

I’ve bought the first two manga volumes online; each cost about as much as the game ($20); I wasn’t disappointed by the first, as it maintains the feel of the game.  I can’t argue with Alice travelling with the protagonist, since it’s hard to have an interesting story with only one person.

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Uncharted Waters, Valkyrie Profile & Suikoden Tierkreis

Just today, Koei’s classic “Uncharted Waters: New Horizons” was released on Virtual Console.  I can think of few other games that would incite me to write an update.  UWNH is a great game, being open-ended, stats-and-menu-filled, and incidentally very rare.  It’s a standout even among Koei’s crop of SNES games, and sure to please any RPG/strategy gamer with a taste for trade and piracy.

I wrote more about Uncharted Waters here nearly three years ago.  My, how time flies.

Since my last update, I have played through the first two Valkyrie Profile games; my review of the second is here.  Brief summary: better feel than the first game, slightly worse pacing, more cool revenge subplots.  Closer to the Norse roots than the original as well.

I am now around 20 hours into Suikoden Tierkreis.  I was doubtful for the first five hours or so.  Now I’m thinking it may actually be as good as Suikoden V, although its combat is more painful and less fun.  Definitely the DS game with the most production value I have played.  Reasonably good voices, fantastic music, and colorful dialogue – I highly doubt the DS will get a better RPG and the very thought saddens me.

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Now a true RPG fan!

It’s been a while since my last post.  I’ve been shoring up some of the other pages (creating an HTML version of the FFL2 FAQ in honor of SaGa2 DS and updating the Destiny of an Editor section to reflect more recent work).

I have also been playing one of the most popular RPG “classics” of our recently departed generation: Final Fantasy X.  This, no doubt, will give me the internet equivalent of street cred and my blog will now overflow with posts debating whether Sephiroth is the best villain ever.  My review follows.

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Personas & Phantasies

Hey, it’s been awhile.

In the past several weeks, I have beaten two games that start with “P” and end with “4”.

First off is Persona 4, which is an excellent game.  At this point I think it’s in the running for my favorite RPG ever.  It is leaps and bounds beyond Persona 3, and far easier to stick with than many RPGs, since it uses the Social Link system and does not focus only on battles  – though it also takes a bit longer than most to really get going.

Second is Phantasy Star 4, a Genesis classic which I have experienced for the first time on Virtual Console.  It’s a bit rough by today’s standards, but it is a really nice game – the cutscenes, done in panels of drawings, are unique – the only game that comes close is Wild Arms 4’s random juggling of character positions and expressions.  Overall, though, PS4 is a solid game, and is particularly good for anyone who enjoys a bit more sci-fi in their JRPG.

Some good news has trickled out of Japan, and I’m a bit excited about it.

The first piece is that that SaGa 2, AKA Final Fantasy Legend 2 over here, is getting remade for the DS.  Here’s hoping Square localizes it!  FFL2 is my favorite GB game by far, so I’m looking forward to seeing how (or if) they can improve it.

Second is that Persona 1 and Growlanser are being ported to the PSP.  If both are localized, that makes four (!) great PSX RPGs that are available for PSP, and I may just have to finally get one – that doesn’t even count the Star Ocean 2 remake, which I haven’t heard much about yet.

I don’t know what’s more sad – that companies can make so much money off of reworking old games, or that I think these ports and remakes will be among the best games to come out in the next year – and I’m perfectly willing to buy them despite owning many of the originals.


Brief Portable Game Roundup

I just got back from a three-week trip to India.  I’ll have more stuff about India specifically later, hopefully with pictures, but I wanted to wrap up a few DS games and one GBA game I’d been playing the most while traveling.

  • Lock’s Quest – an odd take on the classic “Tower Defense” style games of Warcraft 3 fame.  It’s fun for a while, but it got old quickly.  It’s pretty repetitive, and with the fact that enemies attack your towers specifically, there’s no element of “mazing” that makes many tower defenses a lot of fun.
  • Etrian Odyssey – I restarted this dungeon-crawly RPG during the trip, and it’s much the same as when I left it.  It progresses very, very slowly.  While this is understandable, it isn’t really suitable for a portable game.  I must’ve played it at least 15 hours, and even knowing what I’m doing I just finished Floor 8 yesterday.
  • Civilization Revolution – I gained a bit of respect for this game.  While it may not be nearly the incredible game that Alpha Centauri is, and it still seems horribly imbalanced, it’s still sort-of-Civ in portable form.  The difficulty levels are stupid, though – I hate games where higher difficulties just give the AI ridiculous bonuses instead of actually making it smarter.  Did manage to beat Civ-Rev on Deity mode, though.
  • Advance Wars: Days of Ruin – The Advance Wars games had been all alike, but this one maintained the core strategy while drastically changing the tone.  Once I started this one, I didn’t play anything else until I reached the final mission – which, like in Advance Wars 2, is pretty ridiculous.  I’ll beat it someday.
  • Fire Emblem (GBA) – I started this one, too.  The only other FE game I’d played was Path of Radiance, and this is quite similar.  It’s a good thing, for sure, but it’s something you have to be in the mood for and you have to stick with.

That’s about it.  More posts eventually, as usual.