Odin Sphere (PS2) Review

Developer: Vanillaware | Publisher: Atlus || Overall: 9.0/10

Warning: This review has spoilers since the game is like 5 years old at this point.

If ever a game has attempted to be Shakespearean in its story delivery, it is Odin Sphere.  Odin Sphere is a side-scrolling action beat-em-up game starring five different playable characters.  The story and how it is presented is very much the forefront on what is “unique” about this game, but the mechanics involved are also very robust and allows for a challenging experience whether or not you want one.

Without doing much research or knowing much about the game beforehand, if you dive right into it, you’ll probably be a little bit confused.  Confused because you start out the game as a little girl in the attic of the house she presumably lives in.  You’ll see a book, and then you’ll see a cat named Socrates.  Nothing really happens unless you start reading the book at which case you’ll begin the story of Gwendolyn, the daughter of the Demon Lord Odin.

My personal experience with the game began 2 or so years ago.  I had played the game quite a bit but never actually beaten Gwendolyn’s storyline, so when I had actually gotten through her book, it was quite intriguing to see the oh-so-dramatic events and the ending for Gwendolyn.

For the first 5 books, you will play characters who are somehow connected to the royalty of the world of Erion.  The five different characters go through the events of the story from their points of view, and will occasionally fight or interact with other characters you have controlled or will control later on.  Needless to say, the story itself is very non-linear and if you stick with it you will see an interestingly multifaceted story unveil before you.  The only thing that detracts from this are the boss battles in which you defeat bosses in different areas or under different circumstances, but still the same fight when all is said and done.  It feels kind of weird “killing” or severely debilitating the same dragon repeatedly, considering he had just been defeated or will be defeated again by another one of the characters you play in what seems like a day or two story-wise.

Besides the blatant “replay the same game 5 times” aspect of the game, which you really kind of do, they do toss in different mechanics for each of the characters you play with.  The different weapons and characters all have unique and different feels, and it keeps the gameplay more-or-less fresh as you go and play through the story again.  As for the mechanics itself, you will mostly be hitting the Square button over and over.  Jumping and the direction of the analog stick while you press the Square button affect the type of attacks you do, and it is a pretty standard combo fighting system.  There aren’t any huge combos to pull off, but most of the challenge in the game comes in the strategy in which you defeat the enemies that are laid out before you in each section.  Almost every character is able to parry attacks and perform knock-backs.  Gwendolyn, using a spear, can block and glide around the map.  Cornelius, using a sword, can block attacks and do a spinning attack in mid-air.  Mercedes, using a bow, can fly, charge her attacks, and use a unique magic spell.  Oswald can activate shadow powers and make all of his normal attacks hit around twice as hard and twice as fast for a short period of time.  Velvet, using chains, can attack all around her, charge an attack and swing across the map. Using each individual character’s strengths to your advantage is vital to defeating the challenges presented.

Each character has the same repertoire of magic “Psypher” attacks, but they are earned in a different order.  The essential purpose of these Psypher magics are to make the game easier for you — you will need to use them to defeat tons of enemies or defeat a boss you just had enough of instead of just spamming your basic attacks.  Basic attacks can also only be spammed to a certain point, as they are limited by a POW gauge.  The POW gauge will decrease as you use your basic attacks and then you’ll have to run around or stop attacking for a few seconds for the gauge to fill again.  If you fully deplete the POW gauge you will stun yourself for a good 4 to 5 seconds waiting for the gauge to fill to 100% again before being able to move.  A lot of the strategy you employ during the harder fights in the game rely on a careful balance of your attacks and trying to be conservative in your spams.  The game mechanics are fairly engaging and can be quite fun despite its simplistic approach.

What makes the game more of an Action RPG is obviously with its leveling and, to a lesser degree, alchemy system.  Your Psypher and your Character each have independent levels.  The main way to increase your levels is by the way you use Phozons.  Phozons are magical orbs that appear after you defeat an enemy.  You can choose to absorb the Phozons into your Psypher weapon or put a seed into the ground and after a certain amount of required Phozons, pick the fruit (or meat) that grows out of the ground.  You also have a limited storage menu so you’ll have to constantly be managing it as you play through each section.  The food that you can buy or grow in the game can also be used between levels to increase your hit points and gain more experience at a more efficient rate than just eating the food alone.  When you are able to access the Pooka Village, you can visit either of the two restaurants and have them cook up something using your food and adding some permanent hit points.  Using these restaurants are vital to increasing your characters stats — the natural hit point increases from leveling up are about half the amount you actually want to have by the end of each book… at least on Easy mode.

One of the things Odin Sphere has going for, or against it, is its difficulty.  I started playing the game on normal, and ended up dying so many times on shitty trash (non-boss) enemies that I changed the difficulty to Easy.  It was more-or-less smooth going from there, but there were still some tricky bosses that made me question whether or not I was still on Easy.  The bosses at the end of the game were also quite difficult for an “Easy” setting, which makes me wonder how hard the Normal and Hard settings actually would be.  It really made me question what kind of enjoyment people get out of dying over and over on games like this… it really isn’t that much fun to keep dying, but to each their own, I suppose.

The visuals are definitely one of the other unique aspects of this game.  Vanillaware is known for their awesome-looking 2D hand-drawn visuals that stray from what you normally see in gaming today.  They also like to draw chicks with huge boobs and sexy legs and little to nothing to cover it all.  Girls with less-emphasized features also exist in the game, so it’s not that “one-sided” as far as it goes.  Suffice to say, all of the chicks — even the queen of death — are all banging and who wouldn’t want to see these chicks getting ass-rammed with their boobs flopping around?  There’s a lot of provocative fan-service animations and poses the female characters in the game do, as well.

The art style is also interesting because you will see giant men who have toothpick legs.  Not all of the men in the game are that disproportionate, and there are a couple of different mythological races in the game such as Dwarves and Fairies.  Most of the game is influenced by Norse mythology and mixes in with normal fantasy, and the art style definitely goes with what is going on, as it is essentially a “storybook” being read by the little girl in the attic every time you start up the game.

The point of the game probably won’t culminate into much of a cohesion until the end of the game, which all of the events that transpire in each individual character’s book leads to.  The last phase of the game is a series of five difficult boss battles, and provided you leveled each of the characters appropriately and they have enough items to assist them in the final battle, you will choose one character to fight each boss up to the game’s ending.

The game begins to split its path when you choose the correct or “incorrect” character for a particular end boss.  Each boss is to be paired against one of the characters you have played as “the prophecies state” that you collect while playing the preamble.  There is a satisfying ending as long as you choose the correct characters, but there’s not a whole lot that is “plainly explained” in the context of the story.  The purpose of the girl, which I believe her name is Alice, at the beginning is more-or-less justified, giving the story, which you thought as a “child’s story” to be something more of a sad, dark history of the world she lives in.  When Cornelius and a Pooka-cursed Velvet appear in the attic she has been reading her books in, it affirms that the books her “grandpa loved to read so much” actually were real after all.  The set of five books, including the Armageddon and Wheel of Fate books combined ends up being the “Odin Sphere” book written by an unnamed, unknown character whom we can only assume the identity of.  It can be also be inferred that the writer is “you” since you were there at all of the events that had transpired.

I sort of wish that they would have added a little bit more of an explanation on certain things that were left open to interpretation in the game.  The question behind who wrote the Odin Sphere book series is probably the biggest question, and how Cornelius and Velvet affect the world after they turn back into humans, and where the people of Valentine originally came from, and what the actual origin of the mechanically alien-like Cauldron is.  The total rounding up of all the loose ends wouldn’t have taken much effort, considering they were more-or-less extraneous aspects of the story that were still interesting.

I spent a good 40 hours or so on this game, and I probably would have liked to spend about 10 hours less than I did, having to beat the same bosses over and over, in what seems like a forced fashion.  They could have, and should have trimmed any of the “forced” boss encounters, especially considering you don’t even get any experience from those battles anyway.  Once you complete a book, it’s nice being able to replay the story from the beginning, but all of the locations you opened up through your first time through should have been open as well so that people trying to grind up levels a little bit for the Armageddon didn’t have to go through the same stuff again.

The inventory UI, while having an interesting take, was probably the most frustrating thing about the normal gameplay.  I wished so many times that I could open the bag view and use all my items there rather than having to use it through the swirly-circle-single-bag-at-a-time interface.  I would lose items many times and just go through each of my bags not remembering or not knowing or not seeing where something went.  Once all of the books opened up and I was grinding levels for the Armageddon, there is no way to change books without resetting the game entirely — that seemed like an oversight on the part of the design team.

Odin Sphere can be a real challenge to get through and see it through, but I feel like it’s worth it, since what the game set out to do is probably not going to be done again.  I loved the art, I loved the way the story was told, and the game play was a good stylistic compliment.

 

Singstar Pop Vol. 2 (PS2) Review

Developer/Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment || Overall: 8.0/10

Music games seem to be all the rage these days. When Guitar Hero came out it unearthed a new market for music games, allowing for the eventual “full band” music game in Guitar Hero: World Tour and Rock Band. However, only a few genres of music fit into this “full band” experience, leaving many genres of music out in the cold. The SingStar series lends itself towards being able to cover practically any song that has vocals in it, allowing for a more diversified line-up of genres in each edition of the game.

Thirty songs usually come in each SingStar title, and SingStar Pop Vol. 2 is no exception. Some songs that I like that made it into the game are “Duran Duran – Ordinary World,” “Evanescence – Bring Me To Life,” “Lifehouse – First Time,” “Sum 41 – Fat Lip,” and “The Outfield – Your Love.” Some really weird choices that I can’t even bring myself to play are songs like “Boys Like Girls – The Great Escape,” “Santana Feat. Chad Kroger – Into the Night,” and “Ashlee Simpson – Boyfriend.”

While there are more hits than misses in the compilation, I found the selection of songs mostly satisfying for a karaoke game. Being more used to Rock Band’s vocal visual system, I found it harder to keep in tune with the song (as much as I could, considering how horrible I am at singing in the first place) and say the words at the same time. SingStar Pop Vol. 2 is the first karaoke-only game I’ve really played when one considers that Rock Band itself is a mish-mash of karaoke and beat-keeping.

Vocal skills not withstanding, I did have a fun time playing the game with my roommates. Essentially, the game is a party game – something to play with other people in the same room as yourself. A caveat that comes with that, though, is that even though there are 30 songs to perform, it never feels like there’s enough. Both players have to agree on a song they want to sing, and sometimes that comes down to three or four songs that both want to try, let alone knowing how the song goes enough to attempt singing it. More often than not people don’t even want to try singing songs they don’t know.

Though you can hook up only two microphones, you can play with up to eight players through the game’s different modes. Other than straight out duels between two players, most of them consist of passing the mic to the next person in line after dividing up players into teams. The modes aren’t all that different from each other, but there’s only so much you can really do and most of that is already in the game.

Something that is also really nice about the SingStar games is the user interface. It looks slick, and looks cool even when simply messing around in the menu system as you set up your next game. It’s not overly complicated either, which results in getting what you want most of the time. While you play the game, the music video for the song plays in the background, so that during sequences where there may be solos or intros, you have something to watch while waiting for the vocals to come back in. Plus, it helps keep the other players occupied.

SingStar is based on points, and how many you earn during a song is the comparative factor against your opponent. Unlike other music games where you have to perform to a certain degree or get punished by “losing,” SingStar just lets you go through the whole song, no matter how horrible you are. In a way, it makes the game more fluid and the overall objective goes away from “beating” the song and more towards beating your opponent or getting the highest score you can.

On the PS2, SingStar games are typically available with the mics or without them at a cheaper price. New editions of the series come in at $40, while the packs with the mics can cost anywhere from $60 to $80 considering where you shop for it. The EyeToy can also be used in most (if not all) the SingStar games for extra functionality. Another cool aspect of the series is that it treats them all like the same game. The ability to swap out discs and quickly jump into another set of songs is a wonderful feature. PS3 users take note: This unfortunately didn’t work on my 60GB PS3 when I tried it, and it resulted in having to restart the console.

If you like straight-out karaoke games and still only have a PS2, the SingStar series is going to be the perfect game for your collection. While buying them all at the same time would cost a pretty penny, it’ll be worth it once a party gets going and people want to look through more songs, especially if you like most of the songs on any one edition. There’s also the promise of a future update to the PS3’s firmware that will allow the PS2 SingStar games to communicate with the PS3 versions, which would put more use to the PS2 versions of the game.

 

Persona 3 (PS2) Review

Developer/Publisher: Atlus || Overall: 9.5/10

Persona 3: FES is the answer to any RPG gamer’s beckoning for a true, hardcore RPG. In recent years the non-turn-based “Action RPG” has mostly taken over the genre, moving away from the pen-and-paper games they originated from. Developed and published by Atlus, Persona 3: FES is the expanded version of last year’s Persona 3, featuring a whole new story arc and an ending to the whole storyline.

Separated into two parts (The Journey and The Answer), Persona 3: FES includes both the original game and expansion released in Japan on the same disc. Taking advantage of a re-release, Atlus added new Personas, events, and other small enhancements to the main game that you wouldn’t have seen in the original version. If you hadn’t played the original version, you won’t notice the difference at all. If you have a Persona 3 save, you’re able to import it into a new game of The Journey to play/replay it, or just skip it altogether and go right to the expansion, named The Answer.

Put simply, Persona 3 is a game about a group of high school students who have powers called “Persona.” A Persona allows its user to do lots of things like use magic, special attacks, and other stuff an RPG normally lets you do. Essentially, the game could be thought of as two separate but equally important parts: one part of the game, you are going to school, the other part you are fighting monsters.

While at school, you are able to build relationships and gain more power for your Personas with Social Links. Social Links are basically little storylines with particular people you meet. About 20 Social Links are available to explore, and you’ll have to tread carefully as going out with two girls at the same time might lead to putting one of those Social Links in trouble. Make a wrong decision in any of your Social Links, and they’ll be stuck in a rut. In addition, you have three types of statuses: Education, Charm, and Courage. You’ll have to build them up to an appropriate level to discover new Social Links. The most interesting part about this part of the game is that you literally go through every day and choose which events to partake in, just like a normal high school student in Japan may. There is about one year of time to play through, which means nearly 365 days to experience. On the average, it takes me about 10 to 15 minutes to complete each day, not including trips to the dungeon.

The real meat of the gameplay is certainly in the dungeon crawling, which happens during The Dark Hour, a time that most humans are not aware of. With a maximum of four people in your party, you will climb ever-higher in a massive tower called Tarturus, trying to solve the mystery of the tower and the existence of The Dark Hour. The goal at large is to defeat the enemies called the Shadows, who are wreaking havoc on humanity in the local area but could escalate to posing a threat in a larger scope.

You journey through Tarturus, gain more levels, complete mini-quests (called Requests), find loot, and beat the ever-living crap out of all the enemies you encounter. That is the game in a nutshell. Similar to the other Shin Megami Tensei games, you have control over “monsters,” but in this case they are called Personas and are your allies in the struggle against the Shadows. The key to victory in any battle is finding and exploiting your enemy’s weakness and defeating them as fast as you can by using the appropriate skills. There is also a Persona Fusion system, which you can use to create new Personas. Fans of the series will find that this is pretty standard for the series and not that hard to grasp. Every time there is a full moon, you’ll encounter a unique boss fight that breaks up the pace of the game a little bit.

Your main character is a more-or-less mute character that relies on the choices you make to communicate to the other characters in the story. Even further, the choices you make impact your Social Links and, at times, story as far as what other characters say. Usually you don’t have a second chance to choose what to say, so you’ll have to choose wisely.

The art in the game is pretty nice; you’ll feel as if you’re in an anime, as it’s mostly cel-shaded. Occasionally you’ll be treated to an animated cut scene, but they are few and far between. There are quite a few “events” where story takes places, as well as voice acting. The voice actors are almost certainly very enjoyable to listen to, except a couple who are just sort of lame-sounding. In particular, I don’t like the voice acting for the character of Ikutsuki, who is the chairman of the high school the main characters attend.

Music is somewhat of a concern, as it sounds Japanese Pop-like. It can get on your nerves since you’ll be hearing the same songs constantly over and over. Probably the worst part is that the songs you hear the most have lyrics, and if you actually listen to them, they are embarrassingly bad, especially the Battle Theme. There are some very cool tracks to listen to, however, so it’s not a total waste as far as the soundtrack goes.

A lot of time is to be had playing the game. The Journey itself probably would clock in at around 80 to 100 hours (or even more) if you take your time and enjoy it. With the additional episode called The Answer, boasting around 30 hours of extra playtime, the value is there, as long as you like the game to begin with. There is also a “New Game+” sort of thing, so you can replay the main storyline as many times as you like.

To explain what The Answer is without spoiling it, The Answer is a perpetual Groundhog’s Day, in which the main characters repeat March 31, 2010 over and over and try to figure out how to stop it after the events of The Journey. Since the same day is repeated, the whole “go to school” thing is pretty much eliminated from the gameplay and you almost exclusively dungeon crawl. Unfortunately, it seems like a few things you are used to from The Journey are taken out, I’m sure for the sake of the story, but in the end it feels like you’ve lost features.

Persona 3: FES is a massively enjoyable game that can be taken in small doses. A lot of time can be spent with it, and while it may be daunting to undertake a nearly 100 hour game, the hours will seemingly fly by since the fast-paced nature of the gameplay makes it seem like you’re actually in high school, developing friendships and hitting on the babes.

 

Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening Special Edition (PS2) Review

Developer/Publisher: Capcom || Overall: 9.0/10

The Devil May Cry series has been one of the more talked about games recently with the release of Devil May Cry 4, all with the exclusivity to Sony platform being thrown up into the air – but back in the day where none of that mattered, there was a game called Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition for the PS2. The Special Edition is the refining of the original game, Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening, and includes a bunch more goodies that the first version didn’t have, as well as a shuffling around of the difficulty modes. Usually action games peak out around ten or fifteen hours, but it’s easy to spend at least twice that with Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition.

Put simply, Devil May Cry 3 is an action game with horror and gothic elements. It’s not exactly scary, but the game goes back to its roots after Devil May Cry 2’s “offensive” locale. Not only that, but there is an actual story that you can comprehend, unlike any of the other games in the series up to this point. Though the story is actually worth its weight in words this time around, the main appeal comes from the gameplay itself, and it speaks volumes. Unlike most games, Normal mode isn’t for the faint of heart, and even that is considered “easy” by the original version of Devil May Cry 3’s standards.

The Devil May Cry series doesn’t have a combo system utilizing different buttons like in God of War. There is one button to use your melee weapon (typically a sword), one button for your guns, and one button for a special move. Used appropriately, you can string together all the different types of attacks to lay some serious hurt on the demons and rack up some impressive combos. Unlike Devil May Cry 2, you’ll have to hit the square button over and over if you want to shoot Dante’s guns (in Devil May Cry 2, you could just hold it down and it’d fire). As far as Dante’s pistols go, the faster you hit the square button, the faster he’ll shoot them. As you get different weapons, they all have their own firing rates, so clicking the button as fast as you are able to does not help you all the time. Melee weapons follow a bit different logic, however. A melee weapon has two or three different combos that rely on the timing of your button pushes. This can change a little from weapon to weapon, but it’s basically the same execution. In total, there are five guns and five melee weapons for Dante to acquire through the game.

The circle button comes into play when you want to use one of Dante’s Styles. The basic styles are Trickster, Swordmaster, Gunslinger, and Royalguard. Trickster allows you to make use of dashing and running up walls, which I found to be practically useless. Trickster is a hold-over from the circle-button command from Devil May Cry 2, but Devil May Cry 2’s execution in that regard was leagues better. Swordmaster is a bit more useful, and allows you to do some cool stuff with your sword (like throw it) once it levels up. Gunslinger is the one I used the most, and allows you to do quite a few things, like shoot your guns faster, charge them, and target two targets at the same time. Not to mention spin in the air like a tornado while shooting your gun! Gunslinger is by far the coolest of all the styles. Royalguard is kinda boring and only blocks. If you block enough, you charge up some power and can release it onto an enemy to kill them. It’s sort of ineffective at times, because you’ll still get damaged, and it’s not really smart to take damage since it’s very hard to find something that heals you. Other styles are acquired as the game goes on, but for about 80 percent of the game you’ll be stuck with those four. The more advanced styles you gain later on don’t allow you to level up at all.

The graphics are pretty nice for a PS2 game, but do sort of show their age as we get further into the current generation of consoles. The voice acting is not terrible at all, so that is something to be thankful for. The sound effects are good, but the music is where the game lacks. Every time you’re near an enemy, a cheesy battle score with horrible lyrics starts playing. I hated the song by the end of the game and tried to just ignore it, unfortunately to no avail. It would have been nice if they didn’t have such a horrible song, but what can you do? The story is good, and really the first competent piece of writing the series has shown after the first two games.

Overall, the game is very hard, even at the Normal difficulty. The easy difficulty allows for less experienced action gamers (or people who just suck at games) to get into the game to actually beat it and *gasp* enjoy it. Even hardcore gamers will probably at least take a pass through all modes of play the game has to offer, as it’ll add towards fully completing the game in every facet. Once you finish the game, a new gameplay mode called Bloody Palace will be accessible, not to mention being able to play as Dante’s brother Vergil in a new game. There’s plenty of stuff to unlock, so you’ll be playing the full game quite a few times, although it’ll be easier after the first time since you’ll know how to figure out all the puzzles.

Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition is a good game to play if you’re into action games. Since it has been out for a while now, you’ll be able to find it at a very cheap price. The Devil May Cry box set includes all three of the PS2 games in the series, and it’s a good value. Regardless of your feelings toward the second game, you’ll get a loaded action game in Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition.

 

Devil May Cry 2 (PS2) Review

Developer/Publisher: Capcom || Overall: 8.0/10

Devil May Cry 2 has somehow achieved the reputation of being the worst game in the Devil May Cry series, and there is no one out there who would recommend playing the game after the third and fourth games came out. Most people just say skip it. I’m here to tell you otherwise — Devil May Cry 2 is not that bad of a game. Sure, it might have a few flaws, but Devil May Cry 2 is a superior game to the first Devil May Cry in practically every way except the location.

The original Devil May Cry started out as a Resident Evil game, as most people know. It’s probably safe to assume that Devil May Cry 2 started out as some other game that was transformed into a Devil May Cry game with Dante slapped into it. That may or may not be the case, but it’s probably better for it, since I didn’t really enjoy the first Devil May Cry game as much as some people. The only thing the first Devil May Cry still has going for it is level design. In the first game Dante talked — not so much in the second one. But it’s a blessing when compared to the end of the first game where Dante becomes a prissy pony (read: not a badass).

Devil May Cry 2 didn’t have that great of a story, or anything that even resembles a story to tell you the truth, but I found that the gameplay was tremendously improved from the first game. Dante’s guns are Automatic, similar to the first game’s Easy Automatic. Unlike the first, it doesn’t feel like a machine gun and the animation is a lot smoother. Dante can now run up walls, and also dodge while pressing the Circle button. Out of the first three games, dodging has been executed optimally in Devil May Cry 2.

As far as the actual game goes, there are plenty of missions — a little more than 20. Not only that, but you can play as a second character right off the bat, named Lucia, who basically goes through all the same levels in a different way. Nonetheless, there is a lot of content to be mindful of even if there aren’t any extras. Lucia is a bit boring, however, so you might as well just stick with the Dante disc and forget there is a Lucia disc unless you want to see a French ninja girl jump around.

Basically what people hate about the game is that Dante doesn’t talk very much, the story makes absolutely no sense and you’re running around urban environments for the majority of the game. There is truth to all of that, but that line of thinking glosses over the actual gameplay. As far as that goes, lots of people think it was a piece of cake. It could be considered that, especially compared to the other games, but I had a difficult time enough as it was, so it depends on what kind of gamer you are when it comes to difficulty preference.

The graphics and sound are quite improved from the first game, but the first had better art and design than the second. There weren’t any bad frame rate dips at all, and of what little voice acting there was of Dante, it was fine. The annoying voice actors are probably just about everyone else in the game, but you get over it since they barely ever talk anyway.

Devil May Cry 2 might not be the best game ever, but it certainly is NOT one to skip over if you want to see the evolution of the series. As much as fans and even Capcom itself might want to ignore its existence and say to just “skip it,” it would be quite the mistake. If you like to see how the game series evolved, Devil May Cry 2 should at least be given a try.

 

.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.

 

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.

 

Kim Possible: What’s The Switch (PS2) Review

Developer: Artificial Mind and Movement / Publisher: Buena Vista Games || Overall: 7.0/10

Kim Possible has overcome yet another impossible feat – having her own home console game. Having only seen iterations of her persona featured on the Game Boy Advance and DS, Kim Possible is ready for the big time along with her nemesis Shego. But unfortunately for Kim, Kim Possible: What’s the Switch for the PlayStation 2 is a side-scrolling platformer that might end up with you asking “What’s the point?”

First off, Kim Possible: What’s the Switch is a solid platformer. It has the basic vital function a side-scrolling platformer game needs: jumping. Toss in a few extra gameplay elements like doors, levers, and flagpoles to swing on and you’re in business! While it’s easy to learn how to play What’s the Switch, the game is unmerciful when it begins to ramp up its difficulty as you get used to the controls. If it can be frustrating to a seasoned veteran, I can only imagine the type of aneurysms that will be forming in the pre-teen demographic the game’s show appeals to.

The main gimmick of What’s the Switch comes from the actual switching of the characters you play constantly throughout. The game is nearly split in half between Kim and one of her archenemies, Shego, a super strong lady with a magically brash attitude. Even though Kim’s name is plastered on the front of the box, don’t let it fool you into thinking you’re going to be playing as Kim the majority of the time. Occasionally you’ll control Rufus the Naked Mole Rat who pops out of Kim’s pants pocket for no apparent reason other than to confuse me and say “When can I save?!” Although Shego and Kim pretty much play exactly the same, Rufus has the uncanny ability to cling to the ceiling, which gives the levels a little more variety.

A great game design choice is that there is no strict tutorial mode. It is seamlessly woven into the actual gameplay, and the game will teach you how to overcome an obstacle when you need to use a new ability. It is a nice way to learn even though it might take a few levels before the game really ramps up into playing the “real game” you were meant to play.

The game’s set up involves the novel concept of the old “mind-switching” situation. In the beginning story scenes, Kim Possible and her partner Ron Stoppable are on a mission to recover a mystical monkey idol before Drakken, an evil mastermind who is inadvertently Shego’s boss, from stealing the idol. No one knows what the idol does until some other random evil guy named Dementor steals it first, before they even get there, and uses it on Drakken and Ron Stoppable. Lo and behold, Drakken is in Ron’s body and Ron is in Drakken’s body. Haha. Hilarious. Kim and Shego resolve to get back the monkey idol from Dementor so they can switch Ron and Drakken back into their respective bodies by chasing him through fairly elaborate constructs that seemingly shouldn’t exist – such as a mile-long plane.

What is disappointing about the story is that there is a missed opportunity for some actual laughs. Even though the story is based on Ron and Drakken having their minds switched between each other, you never see them except for in still concept art that is integrated into one of the dozens of loading screens that come up. While you don’t have to watch the show to really enjoy or understand what’s going on, it would have been nice to get a little more feeling of what the show was actually about than what was presented. The whole game’s story ends up being a wasted concept that would have been better executed as an episode in the television show. The curious lack of any humorous story scenes with Ron and Drakken voids the game from replicating the feeling of playing through an episode of a lighthearted cartoon — it’s all about “getting down to business” and going on a long adventure beating up Dementor’s cohorts and running through his oddly non-usable buildings that seem to spring up in random places. I’ll tell you right now that if I hired an architect to make a building and he gave me any one of the buildings that are seen in this game, I would sue him for not putting any bathrooms or stairs anywhere.

Not to mention, the game is a collect-athon. You’ll be looking in every nook and cranny you can find to retrieve blue circles called “Kimmunicators” for no other reason than to unlock concept art and music in the extras menu. While I’m glad it isn’t required to collect every single Kimmunicator in the level, there’s an odd sense of responsibility to collect them as you go through the levels so that you never have to go back again – just in case, down the line. There are also different costumes to collect, and through each segment, Kim and Shego must find three of their own costume collectibles to earn a costume to use later on if you so desired. The costume collectibles will be in hard-to-reach places, so they will definitely take some extra time to find. There are also healing and life collectibles, which are very rare. There are not nearly enough of the healing collectibles or extra life collectibles to alleviate the game’s frustrating difficulty in later levels, though.

What’s the Switch is very unforgiving when it comes to starting over after lives run out. Instead of starting from the beginning of a level, you start from your last save. This is crap, plain and simple. I wasted quite a few hours on this game for nothing, only to be reverted back to the original place I started at when I first started playing. Throw me a bone here — I completed the levels I already went through, so why the hell do I want to play them AGAIN? Although it says Kim Possible on the front of the box, don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking this game is easy. In my experience, this game is harder than Ultimate Ghosts ’n Goblins. At least in UGnG it restarted you at the beginning of the level you lost in instead of three levels back! This aspect alone will very much ruin the experience if you even had an inkling of enjoyment with the game to begin with. The only way that you can save is through an Auto-Save function at certain points throughout the game, meaning you can’t save by yourself whenever you want to. Even if you turn the Auto-Save off, it will only let you save at certain checkpoints. The combat is also very lacking, and it’s not very fun to actually fight against any enemies. Most of the combat is hand-to-hand, so the game will get more boring before it gets exciting in this regard.

You’ll also have some gadgets at your disposal which can be used without worrying about any ammunition levels, since they reload practically unlimitedly. Kim and Shego mainly differ when it comes to the gadgets that they have. They both have a “grappling hook” mechanism which will allow them to swing along the ceiling. Kim has extra-sticky wads of already chewed bubble gum just chilling in another pocket, and Shego can “magnetically” pull enemies and items towards her. Different gadgets are acquired as you go along in the game, which add to the complexity of the already challenging game, even though the concepts are quite easy to understand.

Jumping itself is a bit slow, and has an unrefined feeling. Collision with platforms usually results in a “falling” animation that probably shouldn’t be happening as often as it is. It is also a shot in the dark sometimes as far as being able to hang onto a ledge when you’re “supposed” to at times. There definitely could have been improvements made, which seemed to have been passed over. A multiplayer mode is also available with different mini-games to play with a friend. No online multiplayer will make it important for you to have an actual friend who will want to play a Kim Possible game with you. If you have someone like that, then he or she really is a true friend.

On the plus side, the game does feature the voice actors from the show, and a lot of the music and sound effects will also remind you of the show as well. The graphics are cel-shaded to give the game a “cartoony” feel. The graphics are accomplished very well in this regard, and definitely should be counted as one of the game’s strong points. Unfortunately the characters are small, relative to the screen. It feels less like you’re a part of the action and more like you’re watching it from afar. Sometimes through the game it would have been nice to be able to have some control over a camera to zoom in and out or see what’s ahead of you a little bit. If you haven’t guessed already, the right analog stick isn’t used to any recognizable degree.

Kim Possible’s first foray into the home console territory has laid a foundation for what could come in the franchise, and it is definitely a good start. However the execution just does not cement What’s the Switch as a good game in its own right. If you’re looking for some good old side-scrolling challenge in 2.5D, Kim Possible: What’s the Switch should be a game on your list to play. If you’re easily frustrated and greatly dislike playing through parts of a game you’ve already played, you might want to just give it a rental.

 

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner (PS2) Review

Developer/Publisher: Atlus || Overall: 8.5/10

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner is the newest RPG for the Playstation 2 from Atlus. While America doesn’t see nearly as many Shin Megami Tensei games as Japan does, recently there have been more games localized — SMT: Devil Summoner is actually the third game in the “Devil Summoner” spin-off series of SMT. Devil Summoner defines itself by mixing in real-time random battles with a mildly interesting detective story, all set in a large urban area in Japan during the 1920s.

As with any RPG, the story is the major factor that keeps the player going. Following a mute main character, Raidou Kuzunoha the Fourteenth, you are charged with protecting the “capital city” — a group of smaller cities in the same area of an early 1900’s Japan — from demons. Raidou’s job is to investigate any occurrences that happen in the city regarding demons, which are invisible to normal humans and live in a parallel dimension. The main story starts right off within the first half hour of play – Raidou’s detective agency gets a call from a girl asking for help, not saying much more than to meet her on the bridge. On the bridge, there is an encounter with a mysterious legion of red-cloaked soldiers who abduct the girl before anything can be found out. At this point, it’s up to Raidou to discover what happened to the girl, why she needed help, and who abducted her.

The story in Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner, while interesting, doesn’t do itself justice to the world that is created. In Devil Summoner, there are two “dimensions” – the regular world and the “dark” world. The dark world, inhabited by demons, occupies the same space as the regular world, and occasionally crossover occurs. This is where most of the conflict arises in the story, not to mention all the enemies you’ll encounter. The story is pretty simple, to say the least, with details slowly added to make the story more and more intriguing. The only problem with that is that it can take a long time to actually get into the story and, by extension, the game itself. The story also progresses through segmented episodes to show that a period of time passes between each of the main events of the game.

World exploration consists of totally urban settings. As said before, you’ll go to all parts of a bustling city with random non-interactive people walking around to create the feeling of a populated city. While it can be fun running through the different parts of the city to find the next clue needed in your adventure, it can be quite a hassle, especially because of the random battles that seem to happen every fifteen seconds. I don’t know if it’s a theme in the SMT series, but out of the games I have played, there appears to be a lot of random battles happening in a short period of time.

SMT: Devil Summoner’s battle system is definitely a strong point, but is held back by its shortcomings. Being a real-time combat system lends itself to being able to have each battle be over quite quickly. There aren’t too many moves that can actually be done while in battle mode with the main character; a simple dash attack, charge attack, and normal strike are about as much as can be done by Raidou. He also has a gun that can shoot different types of bullets. As can be imagined, it doesn’t make battles too terribly exciting. The main variances that can make or break a battle is the type of demon that accompanies you into battle, and how you raise them.

The game’s demon system is definitely the most compelling element of Devil Summoner. Not unlike a Pokémon game, you can capture the enemy demons you go against during battle. Depending on the ever-present phase of the moon and Raidou’s current level, you can capture practically any demon, unless you’re told otherwise. You must use and maintain a stable of demons by leveling up, sacrificing, and combining them to fit your needs and increase their power, and in effect, yours. By combining two demons into one, you can create new demons, as well as free up another slot to fill with a new demon to use for your agenda. Demons also have extraneous skills that will help you during map exploration and solving puzzles, as well as getting vital information from a stubborn person not exactly willing to let go of the information you might need to progress.

The graphics in the game aren’t anything too special, but there are times that can still make you say, “Wow, the PS2 can do this?” The main agenda of Devil Summoner isn’t to dazzle with amazing graphics as it is to make an interesting world in itself to explore. The sound effects are nice, and every demon has their own little grunts or yelps, making it easy to identify a certain demon, if you ever needed to. The soundtrack is also very impressive, and captures the feeling of the areas you visit with accuracy. What is obviously most disappointing about the sound is that there is no voice acting. To me, it definitely leaves out a certain important feeling that a game like this really needs to immerse the player even more into the setting, especially when it’s one that is as unique as the early 1900s, as it’s hard for someone living today to really relate to how people may have talked or acted nearly a century ago. One thing that is very praiseworthy is the loading time. Battles take almost no time to load, which is a very good thing since they happen so often, but not only that, each part of the city that you’re in does not have to take time to load off the disc, as you can wander through a city with no pauses or ugly pop-ins.

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner is a more traditional RPG for the transitional state of the genre itself. Integrating real-time battles with random encounters makes the game feel like a stopgap between action and turn based RPGs. While the story isn’t all that intriguing or remarkable, Devil Summoner ends up being a quaint adventure mystery title set in an uncommon setting with lots of random battles. Be that as it may, it is a solid title that hardcore RPG fans will want to check out as one of the last RPGs to hit the PS2 before the next generation rears its full might.

 

Super Dragonball Z (PS2) Review

Developer: Crafts & Meister / Publisher: Atari || Overall: 8.0/10

Lots of Dragon Ball Z games have hit the market since the series burst into popularity, but Super Dragon Ball Z for the PS2 (an arcade conversion) takes the series in a different direction than what has been accomplished in the past. Super Dragon Ball Z is a much more simplistic and traditional fighter than what has been seen with the Budokai series. It accomplishes this by only offering three modes of play, Original, Survivor, and Versus modes. Furthering the idea of simplicity, gameplay is reliant on only four different buttons.

Developed by new studio Crafts & Meister, which happens to be headed by the producer of the Street Fighter Alpha series, the similarities between Super Dragon Ball Z and traditional fighters are very apparent. First of all are the types of ways to play the game. You can play a traditional arcade mode in which you go against different opponents all the way up to Cell in the final battle. It’s nothing that hasn’t been seen before, but the arenas you’ll fight in are multi-layered, as well as adequately capturing the feeling that you’re actually fighting in locations from the television show. In this mode, you’ll occasionally get a Dragon Ball from defeating an enemy. As all patrons of the TV show should know, there are seven Dragon Balls to collect, and once you have them all you can use them to wish for new characters or new abilities for your custom character.

A major part of Super Dragon Ball Z relies on having “Character Cards.” A character card is basically the way you build a customized character with the game. A customized character entails the somewhat unique combination of abilities that the initial character you chose out of the up-to-eighteen characters (five are unlockable) that are included in the game. As your character gains experience and collects more Dragon Balls, they will grow in strength and gain new abilities that are chosen from a skill tree that is unique to each character. Acquiring Dragon Balls also offers new abilities that would not be acquirable through the regular skill tree. There is also the possibility of “skill inheritance” in which you can learn a skill from another character card you have built up. With up to thirty character card slots, a large part of the game’s playability comes in building up all the different fighters that are actually in the game, and motivates you towards furthering your characters’ development. Character cards also store the “BP” that your character is, which is the “strength reading” of a particular character. Though BP seems like it’s important, I could not find a benefit to gaining more other than that it keeps building up.

The Z Survivor mode requires you create a Character Card before playing. Survivor mode is no different than other games in that you keep facing enemy after enemy with the existing amount of health that you had at the end of the last battle you had. Each match is only one round long, so if you beat your opponent, you’ll be right on to the next. An added bonus from playing this mode is that there is very little loading – all the matches take place in the same arena, so you can work your way through a lot of matches in a relatively short time as compared to the Original arcade mode, not to mention excel your character faster. After each match in Z Survivor a “Bonus Roulette” will appear, allowing you to choose a prize, which can be a Dragon Ball, a stat increase for defense/attack, HP healing, experience boost, or a BP boost. Versus mode allows for play against a friend in standard best-out-of-three matches. A Training mode will also give you the opportunity to get used to a character or try out a special move so you can memorize how to use it, just like in many other fighters. It’s unfortunate that there is no mode that mixes three round matches and Survivor mode to allow for regular versus matches in succession of one another for as long as you may want to play, similar to the Kumite mode in Virtua Fighter 4.

As for the actual fighting mechanics, I found them to be solid in its simplicity. Though attacks are lumped into “Light Attack” and “Heavy Attack” you can use them in different combinations along with the analog stick to use all of your characters abilities to defeat your enemy. Guarding is mapped to the X button while jumping and flying is set to the O button. If you tap the O button while you’re jumping, your character can start to fly. However, this will use up stamina, which is represented by a blue bar at the bottom of the screen. If you press O and X together (or L2), you can perform a dash, which will allow you to get closer to your enemy. You can also perform a throw attack on your enemies, which is best used when your enemy is vulnerable after being vigorously slammed into a wall. Ki (energy) attacks are also relatively easy to perform, as well as using a character’s signature move(s). When using one of your signature moves, you’ll decrease the green Ultimate Gauge by a third. You can build up your Ultimate Gauge by laying the hurt into your opponent. The AI is relentless as you work your way up, and you’ll have to pull out all the stops you can, even if it means being “cheap.” With some time, the game can grow on you, as a challenge is presented to you and like in any other fighting game, you’ll want to meet and exceed the challenge that is presented by getting better with the fight mechanics.

Though the complexity of this fighter would have improved (as well as with its gameplay) if one button was assigned to each part of the body, the game leaves room for improvement in its current configuration. Because you only have two buttons to work with when it comes to attacking, there isn’t a very huge discrepancy in the attacks you’ll be choosing to use. While it’s not exactly easy to win every battle, you’ll have an easier time choosing the attacks you should use. One thing I also noticed is that there isn’t much running – characters will always fly through the air or propel toward their enemies.

The graphics in the game are quite pleasing – the cel-shaded look the game has mimics the anime as well as it can. Personally, it is really cool to be able to interact with characters from my youth’s obsession in such a way. Sound doesn’t get pulled off as efficiently, however. While the voices of all the characters are voiced by the original voice actors from the English dubbed version, they don’t say much that makes you appreciate that they’re really there. The sound effects sound like they’re straight from the anime, which is a good thing. The music included is fairly odd, as it plays against the action and goes more along with the environment than what may be happening on screen. The music isn’t very noticeable unless you pause the game for a period of time, because most of your attention will be on trying to defeat your enemy rather than the music.

Super Dragon Ball Z is a great arcade game when it stands on its own feet, but when compared to the finest of the genre, such as Virtua Fighter, Tekken, and Street Fighter, it can be seen as a bit lacking. Though it’s nice to see the Dragon Ball Z series be taken in such a traditional direction, there is a lot of room for the game to grow, especially when it comes to the fight mechanics. More modes of play would also be a welcomed addition in any sort of sequel that the game may have, as well. Super Dragon Ball Z ends up being a game that can please fans of the anime series as well as the previous Dragon Ball Z games.

 

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 (PS2) Review

Developer: Neversoft / Publisher: Activision || Overall: 8.5/10

For those who have not played any of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games don’t waste your time with any except Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4. THPS 4 has all the improvements from its three predecessors, but this time there is no time limit involved in skating sessions. Basically, it’s free-skate all the time. The whole premise of THPS 4, is to complete particular challenges given to you by zany characters and other skaters you will come across in a particular level. THPS 4 features nine pre-made maps, two of which must be unlocked through excessive gameplay. You’re given the chance to skate at a college campus, San Francisco, Chicago, a shipyard, or even a zoo. On each of the maps you’ll find one or two mini-games. The extra challenges help you learn advanced tricks so that you can use them on your own free skate time.

With THPS 4, you can make your own skate park and create your own skater with even more items to customize. When you create a skater, you can make your skater short and fat, tall and fat, or just plain fat. A lot of the modifications are not that realistic, but its still fun to mess around with. Speaking of realism, if you’re planning on beating this game, you’re going to have to do tricks that are basically impossible to do in real life (like launching off a ramp, doing four varial heelflips, then doing a manual as soon as you hit the ground).

The gameplay will take a while to master if you are not a Tony Hawk veteran. The game is all about timing and getting used to the in-game physics, as well as getting used to your particular skater’s trick outfit. Tricks are basically split up into four different types: Grab tricks, Flip tricks, Grind/Lip tricks, and the newest addition, Flatland tricks. Grab tricks are tricks that are made while in the air. Flip tricks are also made while in the air, but can be executed a lot faster than a Grab trick. Grinds are made on rails or edges of a sidewalk. Lip tricks also make use of grind-able surfaces; they must be at the top of a half-pipe or on the edge of a bowl or similar surface. Flatland tricks are made while on the ground, and require nothing more than balance, exactly like a grind. Flatland tricks are new to the series with THPS 4, as they all stem out from the manual. Through the series, manuals have become more and more important, allowing you to string together tricks one after another. The developer has been able to take advantage of Flatland tricks and put together some fairly challenging situations throughout the game. It may take you a day or two just to complete one particular challenge, if you have the patience enough to actually do so.

You advance through the game by gaining Pro Points and Cash. The more Pro Points you have, the more levels you’ll have access to. The more Cash you have, the more extras you’ll be able to play around with, such as cheats, movies, skateboard decks and more things to customize your create-a-skater with. You have to spend your points carefully, as time goes on it’ll be harder to get more points.

The multiplayer aspect of this game was a HUGE part of the game. Before they took it down, it may have even be more important than the single player mode, because nothing was more fun than snubbing your five billion point score in other people’s faces when you’re declared the winner. While the network play option has become easy to configure with THPS 4, it really doesn’t matter anymore since the online portion of the game is no longer supported. Not until you play a Tony Hawk game online do you know how good you are compared to other people — you could have completed all the challenges in the single player mode, but still get wiped on the floor. It’s really a shock to see people reaching scores of 3 million, 5 million, or even 10 million plus. When online was active, all of the offline multiplayer games were available for online play. However, as with any online game, the better your internet connection, the better the game play. Also, having a keyboard helped when communicating with other players. Sadly, all this is for naught as THPS4’s online is down for good – you’ll have to play split screen multiplayer nowadays if you still stick with this version of the Tony Hawk series.

The graphics in THPS 4 are still pretty good. Compared to the previous games, everything in the game has been given the extra effort in being polished. There aren’t too many frame rates drops, unless you’re racking up points that are literally in the millions for just one string of tricks, because the calculating of the numbers can slow the game down. They’re good graphics, no more, no less. Each level is detailed very well and full of unique objects you’ll only see on that particular map. There are also unlockables in which you see the actual skaters doing tricks in compressed skateboard videos.

Like the other games in the series, THPS 4 also has an impressive soundtrack by a mix of rap/hip hop artists (NWA), punk bands (Offspring), and even a little bit of the classic rock (AC/DC, the Cult) and classic heavy metal (Iron Maiden). If you don’t like a particular song, you can easily stop it from playing ever again. There’s also voice acting for the people that give you challenges. It isn’t all too bad, but in the case of some characters like Ollie the Bum, you’ll either love it or hate it.

With a Greatest Hits price of $19.99 or even cheaper these days, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 is well worth an investment when it comes to skateboarding games. The THPS series has always been the best games of their particular genre, compared to other “extreme sports” games. In my mind, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 is the perfect skateboarding game that encompasses all of the best things from the series before they went in a new direction with the Underground series. There hasn’t been another “Pro Skater” title since. The value of the game has been diminished since the shutting down of the online servers, and it will be missed by the few who still held this game as the pinnacle of the series.

 

Metal Saga (PS2) Review

Developer: Createch / Publisher: Atlus || Overall: 7.5/10

Createch’s Metal Saga, brought over to North America by Atlus, is an interesting RPG. While breaking the mold of traditional RPG storytelling, it’s more akin to the traditional RPG, in terms of gameplay, than most nowadays. Metal Saga is as “choose-your-own-adventure” as an RPG can be without any sort of adventure to actually be told. Put simply, you can venture through the world with little-to-no restriction; the only boundary is the level your characters currently are. Bosses are dispersed throughout the world, and can be taken down at one’s leisure, contrary to any regular RPG.

How Metal Saga starts out is with a choice: to become a Hunter or a Mechanic. Your dad is making a living as a Hunter and your mom is a Mechanic. Your mom tells you about your dad, and hopes for you to become a Mechanic, as it’s dangerous to be a Hunter. Chosing the Hunter class means you will be able to explore the world and make money by collecting bounties and killing enemies. Being a Hunter is obviously what the game is about, as there are many different “endings” that are available through the game – of which choosing to become a Mechanic will show you. The different endings available throughout stress the open-ended aspect, allowing you to pretty much are able to finish the game at any time — sometimes unexpectedly. For instance, marrying someone will produce a few “story” scenes, but after those finish the credits roll. If you play your cards right you may actually be able to play this game as long as a regular RPG. The world of Metal Saga is post-apocalyptic – once a very high-tech world, a catastrophe occurred that created a low-tech society with high-tech items here and there. While the foundation of the game is based in its lack of story, there are times when I felt myself calling out for there to be a compelling story to be coupled with the things you could do in the world.

Your job as a (bounty) Hunter is to make money by defeating wanted criminals and improve your vehicles, which you find throughout the world. By equipping your vehicles with stronger weapons, modifying them to hold heavier loads, and by diversifying their offensive capabilities, you’ll make your way as a Hunter who is feared by all who cross your path. Unfortunately, battling is very boring. It can’t get much more ordinary than Metal Saga when it comes to a battle-system; very rarely will you really need to pay careful attention to what is happening in a battle, as you can “fast forward” through all the battle animations. This creates a fast-paced feeling while fighting through any enemies that you encounter. The only time you really need to focus on a battle is when you are facing off against a boss, or if you’re collecting a bounty – but even then you could skip through the battling animations to make everything go faster.

Through your travels you’ll acquire a few unique party members. You’ll be able to choose a mechanic to have by your side, but you can only choose one of two possible choices; later on you will even be able to pick a dog (out of a possible four) to travel along with your party. Having a dog with a bazooka strapped onto its back is quite silly considering you’re occupying a tank right next to it. Magic and abilities are not acquired through normal leveling up – rather, they are bought by visiting “masters,” who will train you in whichever art they are equipped with. Instead of using any sort of “magic points,” your abilities will deplete a certain amount of value from your funds as a price for using the ability. The game allows you to go back to where you selected your party members and trade them with another if you feel so inclined as to do so.

The audio-visual experience isn’t exactly top notch – the graphics look like they could fit in with PS2 games from a couple of years ago, so the game definitely isn’t trying to push your PS2 to heights not seen before. The most noticeable lack from the sound category is the lack of any voice acting whatsoever (not to mention the main character is a silent hero). While it could be seen as a throwback to a time when RPGs didn’t have any voicework, it’s just unfortunate to not have anything except for a few yells during battle. Otherwise, the sound effects in the game aren’t bad, but they can get annoying during battle, especially when one considers how often you have to fight. The soundtrack isn’t exactly large and diverse, but what is there is pretty nice. It really doesn’t make much of an impression, however, which could be seen as a negative – RPGs usually have some of the best soundtrack work.

What I personally didn’t like is that the game can get quite monotonous at times, especially when there’s an area of the world you want to go to, but can’t yet because you have to go through a hundred more battles to get to the appropriate level to get through the area alive. The required amount of experience can be very disconcerting given the repetition. The lack of story also causes the game to come across as unfocused. It’s not a good sign when you don’t feel compelled to go in any one direction or are at a loss for a general place to head towards. Events that you take part in as you play also create too limited an impact on the world around you, so it’s less rewarding than it should be to do much of anything. There are plenty of mini-games to be occupied with, however, so occasionally there is some difference in the gameplay. The humor that is written into the game is pretty cool as well, and can leave you chuckling or even laughing out loud, which is very welcomed.

Metal Saga takes traditional RPG gameplay to the point where the game itself could be classified as retro, despite its year of release. The game almost exclusively appeals to hardcore RPG gamers who want a throwback into the way RPGs were back in the day. Metal Saga delivers a unique experience though it is one of the most traditional games to be released in the genre for quite a while.