Every Extend Extra (PSP) Review

Developer: Q Entertainment | Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment || Overall: 8.5/10

(This review is more just a compilation of my notes on the game as I never got around to making a full review 10 years ago when I was playing it.)

Every Extend Extra is a fleshed out remake of the freeware PC game.  It is more like a “musical shooter.”

The loading is fine, but only prominent waiting time is during the beginning of starting a new game mode.  Retries are thankfully almost instantaneous with no loading.  There are several gameplay modes:  Arcade (normal, go through a series of stages), Boss Attack (boss rush to take on one or all bosses you’ve beaten so far), Caravan (play through a single stage), Original (contains the Light and Heavy levels from the freeware version).  It is not very clear on how to unlock levels for the Caravan mode.  I beat Arcade mode but only three are availablee.  Also, I have no idea how to access the Omega and Alpha levels or bosses.  There is autosave.  VS Mode – 1 on 1 over Ad Hoc.  Game Sharing shares a demo of EEE, which also contains a Lumines II demo.  Training Mode gives you the basics on mechanics but does little to teach you about what the game is all about and how to unlock levels and do better.

To play, you explode your bomb to create as many chain reactions as possible.  You collect the green diamonds for points, and more points extend your “Stock” allowing you to continue playing.  Red diamonds, called Quickens, give you more speed to move your bombs around.  You can change your bomb for a large blast radius.  Mini-bosses come along and try to kill you.  Yellow diamonds add more time and appear after defeating a mini-boss.  Bosses appear when you have around a minute left on the timer.  Bosses require a series of chain attacks before ultimately needing a certain amount of hits to be defeated.

The game can be hard to excel at.  you can trudge through with low scores, but getting “A’s” would unlock more levels… I think.

Music is very nice, speeds up with more Quickens you have.  Menu screen is a little less than exciting, including its music.  Graphics are great colors and eye candy that show off the PSP’s screen.  A pretty short game compared to Q’s other puzzle game offerings.  It is still worth having.

 

.hack//G.U. Vol. 2: Reminisce (PS2) Review

Developer: CyberConnect2 Corp / Publisher: Namco Bandai Games || Overall – 8.5/10

Continuing its engrossing story from the first volume, .hack//G.U. 2: Reminisce is the second in the .hack//G.U. trilogy. Acting more as a bridge between the beginning and the end of the saga, it makes sense that by the time you complete the game you’ll be left wanting more. If you made it so far as to finish the first game, you’ll want to dive in head-first after the almost-too-long wait for the sequel.

Reminisce is a great continuance of the adventure laid out in the first .hack//G.U. There are some story elements that will answer questions, while new ones will be raised in their stead. What you once thought to be Haseo’s ultimate goal turns out to be something completely different. Without spoiling too much of the story, all I can say is that even though you may have defeated Tri-Edge in the first game, think again if you believe he’s actually gone for good.

The gameplay is virtually the same as the first volume. However, there are slight improvements that alleviate some of the annoyances in the first game. First, there is the Skill Trigger, which allows you to change from Haseo’s currently equipped weapon to another weapon, depending on the skill you have equipped. The only thing bad about it is that you may not be able to use as many of the skills for a particular weapon as you may like. You can only ultimately equip 4 skills, leaving you to basically equip one skill for each weapon and an extra one that you like. With Volume 2, A new Awakening is available called Divine Awakening which allows you to time hits correctly using the power of your teammates and throw a concentrated burst of energy down on your enemies for a massive amount of damage. It’s quite different from any of the Awakenings that were present in the first game, and it is a welcome change to the gameplay.

As you progress through the game, new and stronger weapons will be available. This game allows you to go up to Level 100, as opposed to the first which only let you go up to Level 50. There is also a whole new arena to take part in, so you’ll be on the warpath for a little bit of the game. This time around, it’s not as huge a part of the story as the first was. The game packs a lot of drama and shows the first effects of what uncontrolled AIDA will do to The World, which is amplified to near anarchy near the end of the game.

Practically all the production values have been carried over from the first game. As I said in the review of the first game, they are very impressive in the way that the game almost literally looks like a 3D anime. Not only is the game presented as such, but the game’s structure itself is actually laid out as if you’re playing through episodes of an anime, a little chunk at a time. Many of the CG movies are noticeably better than the in-game graphics (especially because of the lighting they use), but it keeps the same style going. The CG movies are fantastic — they portray The World in such a distinctive way not possible through in-game graphics, and just like a little 10 year old boy, I’m actually excited when I get to watch one of the movies.

Obviously, those that had tried out the first game and disliked it will most likely not enjoy the second volume of .hack//G.U. Though, for someone that really enjoys the game, it is a worthy sequel to an already pretty solid game. As the story is the main reason to play the game, the gameplay still needs a little bit of a reworking before there can be a killer game in the .hack series. While the gameplay feels ultimately mediocre, the additions to it in .hack//G.U. 2 does make it a bit more interesting. In the end, .hack//G.U. 2 can really be summarized as more of Volume 1 with minimal changes to the way it plays. .hack//G.U. 2 is simply a progression of the story, with a lot more AIDA battles.

Fans of the first game who are engrossed in the story and enjoy the gameplay well enough to keep going with it will find an immensely enjoyable game. Now that Volume 3 has finally been released (this time only a few months after the last volume’s release), Volume 2 is a vital part of the .hack//G.U. trilogy that should not be missed. Though the game doesn’t have many noticeable improvements over the first, it is still a worthy purchase or, at the very least, a playthrough.

 

Gunpey (PSP) Review

Developer: Q Entertainment / Publisher: Namco Bandai Games || Overall: 8.5/10

Q Entertainment kindled a puzzle-loving flame that was deep inside me. For some reason, combining puzzle action with electronic music made me a puzzle fan in short manner after years of being very impartial towards them. After getting my fill of Lumines and Lumines II, something new needed to fill up the large gaps in my life with no puzzle game to play. That’s where Gunpey stepped in. Based on Gunpei Yokoi’s original Gunpey on the WonderSwan, Q has taken the liberty of enhancing the formula to integrate its crazy backgrounds and electronic music that is seemingly trademark of the company’s puzzle games.

The basic concept of Gunpey is quite simple. The goal is to clear lines that appear on the grid by connecting them from the left side of the grid to the right side. Pieces at the bottom of the screen randomly appear at varying speeds and quantities that can and will throw kinks into your plans of obtaining all forty skins that are included in the game. You’re not restricted to just making lines, however. From the four different lines that make up the Gunpey puzzle, you can create shapes, long zig-zagging lines, and anything else that you can think of.

While the concept of Gunpey is simple enough, the actual difficulty can go from a breeze to a hurricane in a matter of minutes. The main game’s Challenge mode progresses by changing skins – a combination of background and music – and by digression, unlocking the skins you play through. The ever-present goal that is presented in Challenge mode is to unlock all the skins and beat your previous high scores. Skins in Challenge mode have a very untraditional progression as far as difficulty goes. The first three skins are very easy to complete, but after a predetermined amount of skins, you’ll always hit a really obscurely hard skin that will kick your ass if you don’t pay enough attention to what’s happening on the grid. After you get through a “hard” skin, the game will slow down again, as if it’s giving you a rest from what just happened. This pattern of progression is similar to what happens throughout the game, except the little “breaks” you might have are very relative according to which level you’re on. This game is merciless when it comes down to it. If you don’t keep on your toes, a line you didn’t see could pass into the top squares and before you know it, you lose all your progress. It is very disconcerting when you’re eighteen skins in, and all of a sudden lose, knowing that you’re barely even halfway through while questioning your ability.

While Challenge mode is the “main” game, Gunpey offers many different types of modes that will keep the game’s formula fresh and challenging for quite a while. There are modes to play with two skins at the same time, an oversized Gunpey grid, and Ad Hoc multiplayer. The selection of different spins on Gunpey is a very nice addition to break up the frustration of Challenge mode.

While Gunpey is a very well put together title, there are a few grievances that affect the overall sentiment. For one, skins take way too long to complete. Compared to Lumines and Lumines II, Gunpey’s skins take at least twice as long to complete, typically around five minutes. It can be quite nerve-racking if you’re trying to power through and experience all the skins, which I’m still not able to do. Another annoying aspect is the absence of any option of auto-saving. Being a major proponent of auto-saving, I found it quite unfortunate that a game like Gunpey does not have it. A somewhat interesting, and very annoying, design choice occurs after you complete a line. If you’re moving a piece just as a line disappears, the game will stop responding to any of your button pushes for a small increment of time. When it comes to a fast-thinking game like Gunpey, it is a big oversight and needless restriction. Unless that’s part of the game’s intentional difficulty, which it doesn’t feel like, it’s just plain annoying.

Gunpey is definitely not the most complex puzzle game I’ve experienced, but it is certainly a great addition to the PSP’s library when all is said and done. Gunpey is another example of how well the PSP plays puzzle games, especially ones that are audio and visual-intensive. I can only hope that Q Entertainment keeps rolling with more unique puzzlers like Gunpey.

 

Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 2 (PS2) Review

Developer: CyberConnect2 Corp. / Publisher: Namco Bandai Games || Overall: 8.0/10

Crossover synergy licensing is one of Namco Bandai Games’ keys to success. Well, when they find the right key that is. In the case of Naruto, they’ve definitely unlocked one of those doors. The popular anime on Cartoon Network has garnered quite a large fan base, so much so that they have games coming out on every console from separate licensees. Namco Bandai has the exclusive PS2 license, and their fighting game sequel, Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 2, is a special sort of game that will definitely appeal to fans of the series. But if you’re an outsider to the series, unless you put some major resolve into it you might not find as much enjoyment as what was intended.

The simplest way that I can describe Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 2 is that it’s a Super Smash Bros. game with all Naruto characters. All the battles are one-on-one, however, only because it’s more of a traditional fighting game in that one sense. That is about all that is conventional about Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 2. It’s just one of those games that before you understand what could be going on, you’ll be screaming some words that shouldn’t be heard by anyone under the age of 12. I guess if you watch the TV show (I never have, personally) you’ll understand that the way battles go on are pretty crazy, with people just disappearing and reappearing right behind you, long “special” attacks, ninja stars, the works. This game is crazier than any DBZ game you may have played and then some. I understand a lot about DBZ, but Naruto left me completely perplexed for the first two hours of play time, just trying to get a hang of the battle system and the constant switching of characters through the single player mode.

There are multiple ways to play Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 2. There is the one-on-one Vs. Duel mode, where you can compete against a friend or against the computer. You’ll be on your way to an endless amount of battles if you choose to do so. The characters for that mode are unlocked in the other mode: a short single player story that felt like an episode of Naruto. I got to the credits in five hours, but there was still extra story afterwards. Your mileage may vary here, depending on how well you fight against the insane difficulty of the computer. I whined a lot while playing about ’How can they do that?’ Throughout the story you will fight as different characters from the show, not just Naruto, which is a mixed blessing. First, it’ll give you some variety, but also it can be hard to master any one character’s abilities. As you play through the single player mode, you’ll unlock more characters to play in the Vs. Duel mode, as well as gain the ability to customize characters to have higher attack, more speed, or what have you. There are also special missions where you can travel around town and find someone that needs help achieving a special goal. It can take anywhere from five minutes to an hour and be as simple as a normal battle or just fighting with your long range weaponry.

Every time you fight, no matter which mode you’re in, you’ll get money based on all the moves and stuff you did in said fight if you win. The money will accumulate as you play through all the different fights. What you can spend money on is mostly stuff that you would only enjoy if you like the TV show. There are videos of all the special moves each character has to offer, model statues, Ninja cards (pictures of characters and such), and a few other things. Not only that, but most of what’s there is really freakin’ expensive, so you’ll be playing a long time before you have enough money to buy all of it. Couple that with some “overall game” goals, such as unlocking all characters, fighting each one three times in Duel mode, and so on, and you’ve got yourself a meaty game if you don’t get sick of playing by the time that all happens. At least each time you play, it will actually go towards something when all is said and done.

As far as graphics and sound go, they are pretty much in-line with how the TV show is (I’ve caught at least one episode on TV since I started playing the game). The game is in English, so if you don’t like the English Naruto voices, sorry. The graphics do their part in making the game seem exactly like the anime with cel-shading. It gives the game a sharp look and makes any jaggies essentially disappear, like most cel-shading games seem to do. Loading is not a huge problem, although there are load screens every time the disc is hit (no subtle background loading here). Speaking of not being exactly subtle, there is no auto-save which is bad for a fighting game since it breaks up the game in an unnecessary way. Since I played the game on the PlayStation 3, save times were very short, but if you’re on the PlayStation 2, it might take longer.

Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 2 is a great game for fans of the series, and fans of the first game. If you like the anime and fighting games, this could hold a special place in your heart, as it isn’t a bad anime to game conversion as I see it. The game itself is solid, and is through and through about the anime it is portraying. CyberConnect 2 did a fine job in the development of the game.

 

.hack//G.U. Vol. 1: Rebirth (PS2) Review

Developer: CyberConnect2 Corp. / Publisher: Namco Bandai Games || Overall: 9.0/10

The .hack franchise is back for more, and does it ever impress! Namco Bandai Games’ CyberConnect 2 has breathed new life into the faux-MMORPG series with .hack//G.U. Vol.1//Rebirth. More than simply being “reborn,” .hack//G.U. takes all the strengths of the experiences of .hack//Infection, Mutation, Outbreak, and Quarantine; it expands on their concept and rolls it all into a package that is one of the best RPG experiences I’ve had in a long time. The almost masterful retooling has reminded me what made the original .hack games so appealing.

As with the previous .hack games, you play a game within a game. Called “The World,” it is an MMORPG played by people in the relatively near future of 2015 when online gaming and the Internet rule everyday lives. As always, there is controversy awry about The World and its impact on its youth. Taking place seven years after the events of the originals, this time around the story follows a The World legend known as Haseo, The Terror of Death, known for killing player killers. Haseo is distraught by the loss of someone he grew very close to to the mysterious player known as Tri-Edge. Tri-Edge has the appearance of Kite from the first four games, but something is obviously not kosher with the way the character looks or acts. Is Tri-Edge a player or a computer program? “Who is Tri-Edge?” is a revolving theme in the first volume of .hack//G.U. The story is presented in more of a traditional mystery with less “weirdness” than what was seen in the previous four. Less symbolism and underlying meanings are required to be understood, and because of all this, the story progresses at a nice pace that is more similar to how an anime might play out rather than a game that has all the time in the world to explain things, especially with two sequels coming up right after it.

As you progress, new gameplay elements are slowly introduced at a somewhat consistent pace. There is quite a bit to learn about The World, and the way the game introduces it all is satisfactory. The Operating System, Altimit, is back again, and is a lot slicker than what was presented in the originals. Some news announcements about things happening in the real world have short newsreels lasting about fifteen seconds. There is also a humorous news magazine called Online Jack, where he investigates a sickness called Doll Syndrome, that seems to stem from playing The World. Though there isn’t that big of a bonus from loading saved data from any of the previous games (all you get is an email from BlackRose), its only worth it to know the gist of what happened before G.U. and the references you can catch. The World from the original games is referenced to as The World R:1, with the The World in G.U. being called The World R:2. The gameplay and story are different enough that I could see there being little problem with going back and playing the previous games after diving into G.U.

.hack//G.U.’s main improvement has been with the battle system that desperately needed to be revamped after playing through four full games. With no improvement at all to be seen between each of the previous games, there was a lot of time to pick out what needed to be improved and what annoyances had to be removed. Nearly all the complaints I had with the previous games in the series have vanished. And while I have not personally beaten all four of the originals at the time of writing, (I’m in the final hours of the third part) I can easily say that if you liked them, you will love G.U.

The battle system has become much more action-oriented. No longer do you have to run right up to an enemy and be right next to them to use your weapon. The battle system allows for you to strike at an enemy even if they’re not in your range. Though in writing it may seem like it’s sort of a dumb thing to mention, in actual gameplay, it expands the amount of “freedom” one has during a battle, by not being restricted in their attacks. Though only the X button is used for every single attack, you can hold it down for a charge attack, or tap it repeatedly at the right time to inflict extra damage. Even though it would have been nice to toss in a second button for a different kind of attack, for instance a light or heavy attack, to increase the versatility of the battle system (as well as having more complex combos), it’s really the only thing to complain about when it comes down to it. The Circle button is used as defense, and the Square button is used for activating a special attack, which will be described later on. That is the battle system in a nutshell – but what makes it fun is how fast-paced it is and how hectic a battle can become, especially in the later stages of the game.

Battles are fought on the screen, just like before, but what is different in G.U. is that it treats battles in a little more traditional way; battle mode is started, and at the end, a dialog box displaying experience/items earned. When a battle is initiated, a circular boundary is created that you cannot escape from without using an item called a Smoke Screen. This forces you to stay within the confines that are created and not easily run away from enemies, which could be used to your advantage previously. The camera is a lot smarter this time around, and doesn’t rely so heavily on user input when in battle, as it will draw back away from your characters from the regular third person angle and take a more disconnected look at the battle playing out. By doing this, the action is easier to see unfold, not to mention easier to control your character since you don’t have to fidget around with the camera all the time.

Another big difference that is noticeable is the lack of on-the-fly party commands. In the previous installments, you were able to press the Square button and tell your party members to do something specific outside of their normal assigned strategy, such as healing or using magic. In G.U., your party members are much more independent, but are smarter in the sense that they will heal themselves (and you) when they need to within the constructs of one of the strategies you tell them to execute when in battle. Less control over your party members can be seen as a good and bad thing, as you can focus more on what your character is doing in the battle, but have less impact on the overall execution of it. The lock-on system is very effective, with little to no foul-ups. The only times the lock-on system can be faulty is when you’re facing against multiple flying enemies, but perhaps that’s just the difficulty of that particular enemy rather than a fault with the locking on.

A Morale Gauge is represented in the upper right hand corner of the screen during a battle. When you perform combos with regular attacks, or a critical combo called a “Ren Geki,” your party members will notice your effort and slightly fill up the gauge, the most being earned after a Ren Geki. Once the Morale Gauge is filled up, it will tell you to press the Square button. Pressing the Square button when the Morale Gauge is filled up all the way will activate an “Awakening.” Depending on the type of Awakening you’ve selected from the menu screens, you can either cast a magic spell with your party members that deplete absolutely no Skill Points or go into a “berserk” mode that increases your speed and strength tremendously as you beat the crap out of your enemies. Ren Gekis also add on a small amount of experience points on top of what is already earned from the battle, so while it is good to still do a Ren Geki whenever you can, if you do a Ren Geki that ends the battle, the Morale Gauge will not fill up, due to the couple of seconds it takes for the gauge to initiate its “filling up” after one is done. That amount of time is longer than what it takes for the battle to end after defeating the last enemy, which is very unfortunate.

Abilities and magic are also vastly different in their implementation. Instead of being reliant on what armaments you have equipped, magic will rely on simply buying a very expensive item that teaches you the ability. As money is hard to come by in G.U., you’ll have to spend your money wisely and consider which magic you really need or want, as well as which ones your party members should have as well. Arts, which are weapon-specific abilities, rely on the experience you have with a particular weapon. The more weapon levels you gain using a type of weapon, you’ll get more Arts. The big disadvantage is that Arts are not learned very often, and can only be attained through battle. In the beginning stages of the game, you’ll have only one Arts until about ten hours or so in the game – which is much too long. It would have been nice if they tossed in an Arts when you reached weapon level 2, but the game pulls no punches in that department. Every time you use a skill or magic ability, you will deplete a certain amount of SP (or Skill Points).

You don’t only fight game-created monsters this time around. With the new version of The World, named The World R:2, a gameplay system for Player Killing (or PK) has been added. Player-on-player battles occur now in The World, and practically everyone is fair game. When exploring areas, you will sometimes see a Battle Area that has a battle in progress inside. By choosing to enter the Battle Area, you can help whoever is being attacked. While you cannot initiate any PKing yourself, the addition of being able to fight other players is a nice change-up every once in a while. The concept is expanded with the player vs. player Arena battling, where much of the story in the first volume of G.U. takes place and revolves around.

It still takes 1000 exp to increase your level. Experience gained from defeating the same-leveled monsters goes down as your level increases. This keeps the player motivated to go to new places to increase their levels and acquire better items to help along the way. Since Haseo is an Adept Rogue, he is able to use multiple classes of weapons. The Twin Swords and Broad Sword are the two weapons that will be mainstay of the first volume. Unfortunately, you can’t easily switch weapons in battle; you must go to the menu and equip the weapon you want and wait for Haseo to put away and take out the weapons again. The battle system is less versatile and fun than it could have been if there was a way to easily change weapons.

A little while into the game, Avatar Battles will be introduced. Avatar Battles are basically Zone of the Enders-esque mini games, just not as fleshed out. Though the Avatar Battles have surprisingly responsive controls for being what they are, they aren’t as good as their obvious inspiration. These Avatar Battles are a nice change-up in the pace of the gameplay, but can ultimately be frustrating, especially during hard boss fights. This is really no surprise, as I have already experienced all of that with both Zone of the Enders games, and didn’t quite expect it to be integrated in an action RPG.

As a whole, equipment is much easier to understand now. Equipment are assigned levels, and once your character achieves or surpasses the level of the equipment, you are able to equip them. It’s much more simpler to understand, as levels now have some sort of meaning attached to them other than being a superficial number that told you how good the armor was, like in the originals. Since equipment do not have any abilities or magic assigned to them either, you need only to make a decision about what to have on by the stats they change. Different classes of armor also make it easier to know which classes can equip what, as before, a piece of armor would just say who couldn’t equip something. As a result, there are “barebones” equipment that will change their name when you customize them with a customization item. The customization item will change the equipment’s properties, and have it consistent to what you actually want out of a piece of equipment.

While the inclusion of guilds makes the story a little bit more interesting, you can’t add anyone to your guild unless the story allows for it. The main purpose of the guild is for storing and selling items. When your guild expands, its uses will expand as well. One such use is something called Alchemy. Alchemy allows you to enhance a weapon by combining one or more of the same exact weapon up to five times. Once the weapon hits an Alchemy combination of +5, it may be used in Alechmizing any other weapon in the class up to 10 levels difference. This allow you to use extra weapons to enhance your existing weaponry, until your level is high enough to equip the next best weapon you may have acquired that can’t be equipped due to your current level. Each weapon is also noticeably different.

The exploration of areas has also been slightly improved. Treasure chests are a lot easier to open, since Haseo just kicks anything open. There is now only on camera view, and you can’t pull back or zoom in like you were able to before. This decrease in the amount of camera control can prove to be a little annoying when you chase down Lucky Animals, because they may be fast enough to run outside of your camera’s view. Lucky Animals are basically little animals that will give your characters bonuses if caught. Haseo is a fast runner, so you can get to Point A and Point B relatively quickly. You also get a Steam Bike that allows you to go “faster.” I put faster in quotes because the bike sucks – it doesn’t go fast at all. I avoid it like the plague, quite frankly.

The area word system is much simpler to use. There aren’t any complex readings you have to make with what is being displayed by flashing lights – its all given to you in plain English, with a helpful description at the bottom of the screen to make you even more informed as to what kind of area you’re going into. There are three types of dungeons you will encounter: The Japanese house, cave, and grassy island field. The selection of different areas is nice, and it’s not as dreary as being inside of an actual dungeon all the time, which is where most of the gameplay was in the originals. At the end of the dungeon, there will be a Beast Statue and a treasure chest with a rare item in it. There is also an assortment of unique areas called “Lost Ground” where story takes place. Different quests and jobs are available every once in a while which gives you opportunity to increase your level in between parts of the story.

The graphics and sound are some of the best parts about .hack//G.U. The frame rate is very consistent, at about thirty frames per second. The only time the frame rate drops is when a lot of things happen on the screen at the same time. Cutscenes virtually never have any slow-down. The graphics themselves are very nice, and capture an anime feel, especially in the cutscenes, which are very stylistic in nature. The character designs are also very stylistic and look like they’re straight out of an anime, as well. Voice acting is also top notch. The main character, Haseo, has a very believable voice and an excellent voice actor behind him. Most of the characters in the game have very good voice actors, which really isn’t a surprise considering the first four games had the same quality of voice actors, with only a couple of annoying ones. Loading is also another positive. Loading is virtually non-existant – in one word, its perfect. Unless you were actually looking to see signs of where the game starts loading something, you will not notice it at all, since the developers devised a way of making the game seamless from one end to the next with no huge pauses like you would see in a normal Playstation 2 game. A commendable job goes to the developers for achieving this feat.

.hack//G.U. Vol. 1: Rebirth is a very enjoyable game. If you like the original games, you’ll have a blast with .hack//G.U., just like I did. Unlike the first four, gameplay does not pull down the game, rather supports it very well with a nice foundation. With three games planned for the .hack//G.U. series, I hope that we can expect general improvements to the already solid formula put in place by Vol. 1: Rebirth. The first volume of G.U. is also quite a bit longer than a single part of the originals. If the next two games show little to no difference, it might prove to be another bad decision in the progression of .hack games in general.

 

Eureka Seven Vol. 1: The New Wave (PS2) Review

Developer: Bandai Entertainment Company / Publisher: Namco Bandai Games || Overall: 3.5/10

I tend to stay away from bad games. It’s not that I have anything against them — it’s just that I’d rather not play them. Actually, let me take that back. When I happen upon a bad game, I take personal offense to it. Not only because of its lack of significance as a video game itself, but because I have to waste my precious time playing it in lieu of having better games to play instead. Eureka Seven Vol. 1: The New Wave is one such game. I literally became sick of playing. The amount of gameplay and story is ridiculously sloppy and unbalanced in its delivery. To complete the trinity, gameplay is horrid, and the story is appallingly boring. Based on the anime Eureka Seven, the game will most definitely fool its fans into possibly making a decision to play the game – a folly one at that.

Eureka Seven Vol. 1: The New Wave is lame. Super lame. There’s no way around it. It’s no joke when I say that this is a serious contender for worst game of the year. But besides all the daintiness associated with calling it the worst game ever without getting much more specific, there could be one or two redeeming qualities about the game. One is that I got to replace a broken case by switching the cover slip and manuals with Eureka Seven’s box, and the thought of the developers sitting in a room chortling over how they made the crappiest game possible out of a respectable anime’s IP.

Not having seen any of the anime, I took the dive into the game after playing another anime-based game, .hack//G.U. While I enjoyed .hack//G.U., which was from the Bandai side of Namco Bandai, I actually had some sparse hope that Eureka Seven would at least be on the same level. Unfortunately for me, that wasn’t the case. Eureka Seven Vol. 1: The New Wave is an action fighting mech game, not so different in concept from something like, say, Zone of the Enders. Except the mechs in Eureka Seven mainly just skate around on the floor and transform into vehicles. Don’t get the wrong impression when I make a parallel to ZOE, however; Eureka Seven Vol. 1: The New Wave quite literally blows in the gameplay department. There is nothing that makes you want to keep playing, as mediocrity spreads from your fingertips, up your arms and into your brain.

While the fighting can get somewhat hectic, and a more or less stable frame rate is apparent, you can’t get past the fact that what is happening during gameplay is that seemingly ice-skating robots are dancing around and smacking each other unrelentingly. With the occasional long range weapon being fired, the robotic combat is very uninteresting, to say the least. It doesn’t stop there, however. Things get from bad to worse, as there is even weaker “hand-to-hand” combat gameplay involved as well. Fighting in robots seems all too sleek when in comparison to this poorly construed concept tossed into the game. To make matters worse, there is also a crappy air-boarding sport called “lifting” that has the most wonky controls of all – not to mention it’s completely pointless in the grand scheme of the game.

There are two ways to play the game: a story mode and a “situation” mode. The story mode is the prequel to the start of the anime series and explains a little bit about the origins of all the main characters of the series and how they all came together, even if it is a bit sparse on the details and reasoning behind some of the events that actually happen. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these reasonless plot directions are made just so that it could get in line with the actual storyline of the anime without wasting more time with actually explaining it, even if that is the point of the game from a story-based point of view. The other mode is called Situation, in which you are thrust into a predicament and you fight your way out, no story attached. Had the gameplay actually been interesting, this would be a worthy mode to have. But alas, it’s not.

My scathing disappointment mainly comes from the main mode, the story mode. The story mode is broken up into episodes, similar to how a television show would be; a series of events happen in a short period of time, and after the episode ends, a period of time passes before the next episode begins. This wouldn’t be so bad except for the fact that the opening theme and animation for the anime plays each time a new episode starts. I get it. I’m playing Eureka Seven — why do I have to see the same thing more than once? The story mode’s biggest fault comes when most of the actual game is spent watching cutscenes and dialogue scroll by. This. Is. Crap. Consistency also plays a part in it, since the cutscenes are voiced while most of the storyline dialogue that doesn’t take place in a cutscene is not. I say most, because randomly they will toss in some of the voice actors whenever they feel like it. I don’t understand why all the lines aren’t voiced, especially when I’m not able to read the text fast enough before it goes away – the dialogue scrolls by itself, and I miss out reading things, even though I shouldn’t be acting like what I’m missing reading is important in the first place.

Not to mention after each little segment of story there are about four or five seconds of loading (as well as four or five different kinds of “loading” notifications, which is another charming aspect of the game’s consistency) before even more story is delivered and even more loading is given. This is constant throughout. There is barely any gameplay, and when there is, it lasts for about five minutes or so (depending on how many tries it might take you) before you go back to watching more story. I understand that the game is based off an anime, but they probably should have just made the story elements into some sort of anime film so that fans don’t have to wade through this unmitigated crap that they call a game.

The graphics are also underwhelming in their own right. Seemingly straight out of the year 2001, you’re not going to find much to appreciate in this department. The robots, called LFOs, aren’t that bad looking per se — it’s just that you don’t play with them nearly long enough to take notice to them all that much. Frame rate is a shot in the dark. During robot combat, it can be satisfactory, but during on-foot scenes the frame rate drops randomly like no other. The robot animations aren’t anything special — they just do their job. The running animation for the actual characters sucks, however, and it doesn’t look like they’re making any contact with the floor they’re on at all. I’d like to say that the designs are cool, but it’s just dumb seeing robots skate around on the ground. If they have the technology to make robots in the first place, why can’t they just make them all fly by default?

Sound is also another failure. Voice acting isn’t completely horrible, as I expect that at least most of the voice actors are from the anime. The lack of consistent voice acting throughout does take a very big effect on the game, though, especially given that it’s supposed to appease fans of the anime, who are accustomed to hearing the characters speak rather than having to read the dialogue they are delivering. Music is also generic at best. The same annoying tunes are used constantly and rarely ever properly reflect the mood that should be created at that specific point of time. Sound effects could be better, but since most of what you do is sit and watch story scenes, it’s not something really worth dwelling on.

Quite frankly, stay away from Eureka Seven Vol. 1: The New Wave. I don’t know if I could even dream of recommending this game to anyone except the most diehard fan of the Eureka Seven anime that wants more and can’t get it anywhere else. It’s really a tragedy that a game concept that seems like it should work well ends up turning into one of the worst experiences I could ever endure when it comes to a video game. A big sticker saying “pass” should be mandatory on every copy of this game.

 

Mobile Suit Gundam: Crossfire (PS3) E3 2006 Preview

Developer/Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment

Mobile Suit Gundam made its way to Sony’s show floor in a barebones sort of way. This game in particular allowed for more than just testing the short demo itself, but seeing what parts of the controller had been improved. As you may or may not know, the controller’s regular two analog sticks’ resolution had been increased from 8 bit to 10 bit. Basically, meaning they are more sensitive — the extra sensitivity helped out tremendously in the demo.

Mobile Suit Gundam’s camera is placed in an over-the-shoulder view. Though the Gundam takes up a little bit more of the screen than it probably should (about half), the Gundam model looks very nice. Even the enemy Mobile Suits looked cool; the only thing that really sucked about the game in terms of graphics was everything else. They plop you down in a desolate mountain desert and let you blow up six enemy Leos and a couple of guard towers. Hoorayyyy… however, I did enjoy the little bit that was offered. Regular movement was a bit slower than it probably should have been, and made it harder to actually put your laser sword to any good use.

The main weapons I used were the machine gun and the head Vulcans (machine guns in the head). It didn’t take too long to defeat enemies. If you happen to actually get damaged enough during the demo (aka you suck at games and probably life) body parts will start to fall off, disallowing use of certain weaponry or abilities. I hadn’t figured it out until my last play-through of the demo, but you can boost while on the ground, allowing you to move a lot faster and not rely solely on sprinting on foot towards your enemies. The boost also allows you to jump to get to higher places but when you land it takes a second or two for your Gundam to recover.

To me, it was weird to see such a barebones demo for Mobile Suit Gundam out on the show floor when there was the Xbox 360 counterpart Mobile Ops: One Year War practically finished already. For what its worth, though, the PS3 version did look noticeably better.

 

 

.hack//G.U. Conference Call

I had the opportunity to participate in a conference call for .hack//GU Part 1 this past week. Some new information as well as old information about the game was talked about during the conference. Much of the information presented was random.

The information I was able to get out of the conference is as follows:

• Fall release date on the PS2, developed by the same developer.
• The game takes place several years after Part 4. CC Corporation has built a new version of The World after the events from the first quadrilogy. The World is not the same – there are similar/familiar areas, but they’re not exactly the same. Someone who has played through the previous games should feel comfortable in the settings, however.
• The game goes for a much darker and grittier feeling than the previous games. It is very anime-styled with a cross between cg and cel-shaded.
• The story starts out with two people helping the main character with starting out in The World, not unlike Part 1. He gets into trouble and then gets rescued. He turns into an anti-hero sort of guy. Later on, he finds out about a legendary Player Killer, and after their first encounter, the main character’s level is dropped back down to 1. He tries to find out what is going on, only to find out that not everything has been fixed from the previous version of The World.
• While the core mechanics of the game is similar to the previous installments, the battle system is much more action oriented with combos. The higher the level you are, the more special attacks you can learn, which obviously give you a better advantage. The main character can change his weapons depending on the level he’s at, as well.
• Guilds are also introduced in the .hack//GU Part 1. Depending on how big your guild becomes, you can get a guild hall (which is like your own house), and it’ll have important items and the like for you to use.
• As opposed to the first four games, there will not be a dual audio option (meaning Japanese and English audio tracks) because there isn’t enough space on the disc. The space on the disc is filled up with all the new content they’ve added for the game.
• A class called the Multiblade can use multiple weapons. A player can learn different types of weapons as they increase their levels. They start out with the twin-blades.
• .hack//GU will be three parts instead of four. No separate DVD where there is an elaboration is going to be included, but there will be content that is separate.
• There will be some sort of memory card activity with the previous games, but it was not elaborated on in the call.
• The keyword system will make a comeback, but it will be easier to use.
• There are no online plans for the game, as the whole point of the .hack series is to simulate an MMORPG.
• All the characters in the game will be new, but they will look very familiar. What this means is that each class has its own “look” that anyone who played the previous .hack games will recognize as they played through the games.
• There will be voice-overs. The soundtrack is composed and directed by the same people as the previous four, but it won’t be as happy-go-lucky – it’ll have a much darker tone. However, the key change for this “darker” aspect is in the art.
• The game is going to be completely original, but people from previous games will still appreciate it.
• You don’t need to have played the original series to understand what is going on in the .hack//GU series. They want newcomers to feel welcomed.
• Email and OS interaction will be included, similar to the last games.
• Since the main complaint of the original games was the lack of new content, they’re going to pack .hack//GU with as much content that would be equivalent to all four of the previous games. There’s going to be a lot of new content, and it’ll take much more than 20 hours to beat each part of .hack//GU.
• Player Killing takes a part in the game, but you can’t just go into towns and kill people. You can’t go out actively and kill other players either, but you will be able to prevent others from hurting others if you chose to.
• There will be guild vs. guild matches.
• If people die in the game, it will take a negative impact on the game itself.
• The game is aiming to be a darker version of the original series, but its not going to be G rated. There will be mature themes, but it will stay within the same rating. They’re not going for a GTA-esque level, but they’re not going to be cartoons. It’ll be a middleground of sorts, aiming for the same people who bought the preious games.
• The World is more violent in general, since there is player vs. player interaction. There will be a lot more interaction with the game, battle and non-battle-wise. More character development is also an aim.
• A level-cap is still being determined. There is a class change cap.

A playable demo is still unconfirmed. There might be something at E3 this week, however. Keep watch for more information about .hack//GU at Gamersmark.com!

 

Hellgate: London (PC) E3 2005 Preview

Developer: Flagship Studios | Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment

I had the pleasure of being invited to an appointment to check out Namco’s new PC games today at E3. The games I had seen were Mage Knight Apocalypse, and Warhammer, and Hellgate: London. Namco’s goal in their expansion to the PC market is to create new franchises that aren’t featured on consoles, to give the made-for-PC attitude in their upcoming PC games. Mage Knight Apocalypse was available in a playable form, but Warhammer was just shown as a trailer. The only game I had actually gotten hands on with was Hellgate: London.

The version of Hellgate: London that is on the E3 floor was still in development, but it had a lot of elements already added in the game for playing. The actual story for Hellgate: London is fairly simple. Being set 20 years in the future, demons come from Hell and you have to stop them as part of the last surviving humans on the Earth. Similar to adventure games with RPG elements, Hellgate: London stresses character development and increasing the abilities of your character and his weaponry. In this respect, the game becomes very unique when it integrates its weaponry choices. There are many different kinds of guns and melee weapons, that you can create different combinations of in both of your hands. The only melee weapons currently in the game are swords, but a representative of the development team said that they will be including different kinds of weapons, such as a cricket bat, so that you can kill things in a style that you want. From what I’ve seen, there are rifles and pistols that have futuristic kinds of ammo/uses, some in an almost magical way. The rifle that I saw (almost similar to how a shotgun works) unleashes white balls of light that spread out among the area and create a lot of damage, though not very accurate. The rifle works really well when there’s a large group of zombies, demonic creatures, or other enemies. The pistols aren’t anything too out of the ordinary from what I saw, but the kinds of ammo they have are unique. You can upgrade your weaponry as you collect more weapons, and also equip more items to your body, changing your character’s appearance.

Hellgate: London is not a pure first person shooter; rather it uses a combination of first and third person views. It is useful in some cases to use the first person view, and also switch out of it to the third person view to get a look more at what’s around you. The first person view can only be used when you have only guns (meaning no combination of a gun in one hand a melee weapon in the other), because using melee weapons in first person is hard to use, and wasn’t included. I had asked the member of the developer team (who was the art director) whether or not that would be included. He said it might not be, because it was undecided whether or not they would put that in. Through my experience with playing a game called Thief, which used first person melee attacks, it was hard to function. In this regard, the ability to switch between perspectives is a very much welcomed aspect. He also mentioned that Shops would take a big part in the game, though they haven’t been included yet. Shops would be used to sell the items you gather and save your game when you visit. Some sort of a quest-structure is to also be included in the game, so that the game can move along when playing single player. The RPG elements, the concept of modding weaponry, and the beat-em-and-shoot-em-up feeling you get from the game can appeal to a broad audience of PC gamers, as it reaches a middle-ground between FPS and a game like Everquest.

While the game takes place in London, there are two parts to the game: above ground and underground. All the maps are generated randomly, so you’ll never go into the same area again, as the main purpose of the game is just to develop your character in classic RPG style. Upon the question of whether or not there would be multiplayer included in the game, the art director said they haven’t included it in the game, but they do want to put it in. If there are the standard types of competitive online game modes we’ve seen with most first person shooters and having some sort of a quest mode be played co-operatively.

The actual version that I had played was quite impressive. For being Flagship Studios’ first game and a part of Namco’s first wave of PC titles, I was very impressed by how good the graphics looked; the game was very fluid for being in an early stage of development. The development team did an amazing job in creating the settings and areas. The ruined look of a city ravaged by demons, gave the actual feeling that if a demon invasion happened in the real world, it would look just like they had portrayed it. The art director told me that as you progress through the game, enemies get tougher, weapons get better and more improvements are available for your character.

I have no doubt that Hellgate: London will not disappoint. I came out of E3 today looking forward to being able to play more of the game and to see how it turns out more than any other game I had looked at while I was there, mostly because of how well the development was going in such an early stage. The release date for Hellgate: London is to be determined, so whether or not it will be released this year or next year is left to question.