Grand Theft Auto Advance (GBA) Preview

Developer: Backbone Entertainment/Digital Eclipse Software | Publisher: Rockstar Games

Ever since Grand Theft Auto 3 came out, I know everyone has been pining relentlessly for a new, top-down Grand Theft Auto game. Well, everyone’s wishes have been granted, with the upcoming Grand Theft Auto game for the Game Boy Advance, Grand Theft Auto Advance.

GTA Advance takes place in Liberty City, during the same time period as GTA3. You play as Mike, a member of the mob, who is about to leave the crime world behind. However, his friend Vinnie had a few more jobs for him to do before they could get enough cash to leave for good. That’s when Vinnie dies in a car explosion (with all the cash), and Mike is suspected for Vinnie’s murder. It’s up to Mike to figure out who killed Vinnie, while all the cops in the city are after him. As more missions are completed, more of the storyline is opened up. Story scenes are also drawn in the GTA-style of art that was introduced with GTA3.

Even though GTA Advance goes back to GTA’s roots as a top-down game, GTA Advance keeps the improvements that have been done to the series, to make it seem almost like you’re playing one of the 3D games, of which are:

• Explore and exploit a sprawling, handheld Liberty City that’s over twice as large as Grand Theft Auto 3.
• Dozens of vehicles to find and drive – compacts, sports cars, delivery trucks, taxis, SWAT vans, tanks, and more.
• Take time off from the task at hand with hundreds of side missions: taxi driver, paramedic, fire fighter, street racing, vigilante, and rampages.
• The freedom and open-ended game play that is synonymous with the Grand Theft Auto franchise provides countless hours of portable entertainment.

If you liked the classic GTA games, then this should be a definite addition to your game arsenal.

GTA Advance is set for a simultaneous release with the upcoming GTA: San Andreas in October 2004.

 

Dark Cloud 2 (PS2) Review

Developer: Level 5 / Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment || Overall: 9.3/10

The original Dark Cloud is known as one of the best adventure RPGs for the PlayStation 2. Thus, players clamored for a sequel, and with listening ears Sony has brought us Dark Cloud 2. If you’re a Dark Cloud fan, you will be thoroughly impressed with the effort by Sony to make this sequel truly all that it should be and more. Everything in Dark Cloud (including the translation) has been greatly improved.

Dark Cloud 2 is about a young boy, named Maximillian (or Max for short), and a young princess from the future, Monica. The story starts when Monica goes to the past from the future to stop an evil guy, only known as Griffin, from destroying the past, therefore destroying the future. Don’t ask why this makes sense, because if Griffin was going to destroy the past, how would the future be able to know he was going to if they were destroyed? Just take it for what it is, and you’ll have a fun time playing this game.

The Georama system that made the first Dark Cloud so original, (which is the aspect of the game in which you can build your own towns for people to live in) has been revamped and loaded with new features that make your towns more customizable. Not only did the Georama system get a major improvement, but the battle system, storyline, interactivity, and user interface had all been greatly improved. Dark Cloud 2 is everything Dark Cloud was, should have been, and so much more.

The similarities between Dark Cloud and Dark Cloud 2 are the same as the similarities between any of the Final Fantasy games. All that is in common between the two Dark Cloud games is the concept of using Georama to rebuild the world, and go through a merciless amount of dungeons to do so. And let me tell you right now, the best part of the game is going through the dungeons (and that’s a good thing).

Somewhat of a new aspect to the game is the ability to freely travel to and fro from the future to the past.

Graphics:
The only improvement that some may see as a turn-away from this game is that instead of the generic computer-graphic-look, the game is cel-shaded. Let me say this again, the game is cel-shaded. Even though some may see this as a bad thing, I see it as a good thing. The game looks amazing, and I believe that the cel-shading makes the game what it is.
Compared to games using the conventional computer-graphic look, every aspect of this game, visually, is amazing. The cel-shading mixed with a right amount of regular computer graphics make for a very pleasant experience. Just because it may look cartoony, doesn’t mean it doesn’t look good.

Sound:
The sound in this game is great. Every part of the game has good music. After 90+ hours of playing this game, I still have not gotten sick of any of the songs. The music makes you feel like you’re in the area you’re in, whether it be a volcano, a tower, or the future.
When the story is advancing, there is voice acting. However, the voice acting makes the game seem more kid-like, because there are a few weird voices that seem to have been made to entertain younger children, even if the game is not really made for them.

Game Play:
There are two main aspects of the game. There is the battle system and the town interaction/Georama system, as well as a few extras tossed into the gaming mix.

The battle system has improved so much since the last Dark Cloud, that it makes it easier for you to be efficient with your battle tactics. Instead of having six playable characters with different abilities (as in the first one), you have only two characters, whom each have two weapons (close and long ranged weapons) at their disposal in addition to an “alternative” mode of fighting. Max is equipped with huge wrench-like weapons (because he’s an inventor), and a gun. Max also has a huge robot named Steve. You may remember “Steve” as the talking slingshot from Dark Cloud. Well, now he’s a powerful robot that can be fairly annoying if you choose to equip him with a voice box. Steve is almost a character by himself, as he has his own hit points, weapons, and uses. Steve becomes especially useful farther along in the game, when the enemies become extremely hard. Monica is equipped with the conventional sword, and a bracelet that can shoot magic. That’s not the interesting part about her though. She’s able to transform into particular enemies you encounter throughout the game. This is fairly useful, as each of the different monsters have skills that are needed to complete tasks in the game.

The main part of the game is the dungeon-exploring. Going through dungeon after dungeon was the whole purpose of Dark Cloud, and the same goes for Dark Cloud 2. The main point is that you go to a part of a dungeon, find the key to go to the next level, and go to the next part of the dungeon. As you venture through the seemingly endless amount of dungeons, you improve your characters mainly by improving the weapons they carry. You do this by “synthesizing” or basically adding a particular item’s ability-gaining-potential to the weapon.

Synthesizing has been tweaked a bit from the first Dark Cloud. At every “level” the weapon gains from use (and depending on how advanced the weapon is), it will gain a certain amount of “synthesize points” instead of just putting a bunch of different things in slots and having them join with the weapon. The battle system is very deep, and to explain it here would take too long.

The other part of the game that you’ll be spending time with is the town interaction/Georama system. Town interaction plays a big part in the beginning, but declines as you make the towns through the Georama system. The first town, which is made by the developer, is obviously more grandiose and interesting than any of the ones you make. An interesting part of town interaction is the camera. The camera is used to document certain types of items, which is used for other purposes. However, this provides for some pretty fun photo shoots. When you first get the camera, you’ll be taking pictures of everything you see, trying to get every single item (which there are a few hundred of).

Like I said before, the Georama system had been greatly improved, and makes for some very nice customization of the towns you have to rebuild. Instead of having the actual items being provided for you to right away place on the map, you must actually CREATE them with the building materials you acquire. This makes for a less far-fetched reason for being able to make a town by yourself, out of nothing. In Dark Cloud you didn’t have to meet the conditions of the original town, except to get prizes for doing so. In Dark Cloud 2, however, you have to do 100% of what the town is supposed to have in it. An example would be “Place trees around the Elven house.” This would complete a certain condition you had to do to restore the future, because in the future’s past, the Elven house had trees around it. Also, you must have a certain amount of “culture points” which almost forces you decorate the town with certain things, to make it seem like a more believable town.

Some extra aspects to the game are the invention system, Spheda, and fish raising/racing.

The invention system comes in play when you take pictures of certain items. These pictures supply Max with ideas to be able to make a certain invention, for instance a bomb or a weapon. The way it works, is if you put three ideas together, you may or may not be able to create a “complete” idea that will allow you to create a particular object.

Spheda in this game is basically an advanced form of golf. The explanation behind Spheda is that there are space/time distortion thing, in which a blue or red sphere falls out of a blue or red distortion. The goal of Spheda is simply to put the sphere of glowing space/time back into the portal. You may ask now “why don’t the just pick it up and put it back in.” You idiot! Don’t you know if you pick up a piece of space/time you’re going to possibly change the future (as if hitting it with a golf club makes it any better…)!?! Anyhow, to win at a particular game of Spheda, you must defeat all the enemies in a dungeon, after which, the distortion and the sphere will appear at random places on the map. The dungeons are all randomly generated, so it makes for some very frustrating times. Basically, you have to get the sphere an opposite color of the distortion to make it go in (Red sphere -> blue distortion, blue sphere -> red distortion). This adds for some difficulty, as you may be able to hit the sphere into the distortion, but it doesn’t go in because it is the same color as the distortion (which is bad). Have fun with this one. Even though it isn’t a required part of the game, its still very useful getting the item out of the treasure box that falls out of the distortion after it is repaired.

Fishing. Fish raising. Fish racing. This all seems kind of boring, and let me tell you it pretty much is. But if you play your cards right, you’ll be able to get some very good items and weapons. I think its sort of self-explanatory as to what you do with the fish.

Overall:
Well, after all that we’ve been through with each other, I’m afraid it won’t even come close to how long you will play this game. I haven’t said one bad thing about this game, but there is a factor of the game becoming rather boring at times, as well as getting an “oh yay you finished an area, now go to the next one and do the same thing you did before” feeling about midway through the game. Nothing really happens during the middle part of the game, as it is really just gets you prepared for the unloading of the story, and mess of difficult enemies and bosses near the end of the game.

There are about seven different areas, all corresponding with a particular element. Such as, fire, water, wind, earth, air, and a couple of extra areas. The reason it becomes so boring, is that when you go through the dungeons, there usually isn’t any story sequences at each part. The only reason they become boring is if you’re trying to play all the way through a bunch of the dungeons at the same time. If you give it a little break in between every few dungeons, it’d be less of a bore. But to break up the monotony of the dungeons, the developers have tossed in many, many extra mini games and side quests to have fun with.

 

Creative Spam? You’ve Got To Be Kidding Me…

Its the year 2004, and after nearly 10 years of the existence of the Internet, we STILL haven’t been able to stop spam. Well, there has been a good effort though, the major ISPs of the Internet are fighting the good fight against Spammers, while raising prices of Internet access for their efforts. More specifically, AOL, MSN, and Earthlink (among others) are putting immense pressure on the spammers to create new tactics and things that will be able to get past their spam blockers. There is also some nifty programs like McAfee’s SpamKiller. Even though SpamKiller sucks, it still filters out all the mail that is absolutely shit, and gives me the chance to catch mail that I actually wanted to receive. By the way, I get about 200 spam mails a day, and more often than not, I don’t get any mail that is actually what I wanted.

However, even with all the technology, skills, and millions of dollars poured into killing off spam companies, it isn’t solving the problem, rather its making it evolve into an even more annoying one. Barely ever do you even get any COHERENT spam mail. It used to be that you’d get a subject that said “Look at these MILFs go at it!” but now its “M-I*L-F pr0n, ci+y poli+ics v/ote Ge*9orge W. Bu1sh” or something along the lines of that. Of course there is no reasonable way to block this overloading of complete and utter CRAP. One spam mail I had received (which also sparked this rant), contained a picture of a woman finger banging herself, made out of symbols on the keyboard.

I mean, you’ve gotta be KIDDING me. What the FUCK is with this shit? How long did it take this person to actually draw this thing out of dashes, dots, perentheses and one red o for the tit? Spam is seriously going too far and E-mail is doomed.

 

Xenosaga Episode I (PS2) Review

Developer: Monolith Games / Publisher: Namco || Overall: 8.5/10


Overview:
What do you get when you mix an incredible space adventure full of drama, action, explosions, and robots with hot chicks? You get Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht. Xenosaga Part I is the first of eight games, and they’re all a part of the Xenogears story in one way or another (prequels and sequels, and I’m assuming a possible remake of Xenogears). Xenogears was made by Squaresoft, and Xenosaga is being made by Namco (which has a team of developers who left Squaresoft).

Boasting an immense and involving story, Xenosaga Part I takes place in the future, where humans only live in space, co-existing with cyborg counterparts, called the Realians. Though the story doesn’t revolve totally around the Realians, the events happen all because of a war that had been fought between humans and Realians. There is a whole history that the game presents for you, and trying to remember all this information to understand the rest of the game will actually revolve around the events that happened before you start playing the game. The real conflict in the game is the war between humans and aliens no one knows anything about, and a mysterious object called the Zohar.

Even though this game is an RPG, when it starts out, there isn’t much of a game to actually be played because there are so many cinematic movies. There’s more actual playing time as you get farther in the story, but this might lose some gamers early on in the game. It was like watching a really long porn movie, except there was no sex. Or there was some sex but it cut off before anyone was actually naked. (Sex in this reference would be equal to playing the game.)

Graphics:
The graphics in this game are nothing short of amazing. Everything is very polished, and looks about as real as computer graphics can look in this generation. However, there are some annoyances involving hands, and them not having moving fingers. Still, the cinematic movies are ones to really be amazed by. During action scenes, you may actually say “wow” because they are pretty intense at times.

Later on in the game, there is an integration of CG movies in actual battles.

Sound:
The sound category as a whole is definitely below average at best. Now don’t get me wrong, the voice acting in this game is top notch, and the musical score is really good, but there is an EXTREME lack of music during regular game play, more specifically map movement. There is nothing that will help you get into the mood when you’re traveling from Point A to Point B, fighting monsters along the way. And if you’ve played RPGs, this is what happens ALL the time. The lack of music here is really a sad thing, as it makes the game feel empty and less involving when the actual events of the story so far have gotten you to that point.

I don’t know if anyone else cares this much about music, but I honestly do think that music is a very important part of any RPG, to always feel like you’re involved in the game, and not just hearing footsteps on different surfaces.

Game Play:
The game is similar to most RPGs, except in battles; there are a number of different attacks you can string together to make each turn at least seem like it’s more realistic (because in other RPGs, when you say “attack” the character always attacks the same way every time). You can also make the decisions of what to actually hit your enemy with, whether it be a physical attack, or Ether (magic) type of attack. The same sort of “choosing your attack” feature is used when you’re in mechs called A.G.W.S (pronounced ay-ggs). So any Xenogears fan who doesn’t have Xenosaga will be wondering what the hell an A.G.W.S is and what happened to the Gear which was in XenoGEARS. Well, supposedly A.G.W.S are the smaller type of Gear used in the time before Xenogears (since Xenosaga Part I is a prequel). Instead of the gigantic Gear from Xenogears, the A.G.W.S. in Xenosaga are about four times bigger than humans, and can have a range of weapon types, including Melee, Guns, and Rockets/Grenades.

Now, you’re probably wondering how the backend system is. I’ll tell you right now that it is one of the most complicated ones I’ve ever seen, except it can help you out in making your character very strong, and skills-and-abilities-filled. There are several types of points you gain at the end of a battle, and you use three of the types of points to gain more Ether attacks (magic attacks), Skills (skills are extracted from actual items that can be equipped), and Techs (which are points you use to upgrade the skills you use in regular battle).

The stand-out point of this game is with no doubt its storyline. There are barely any games that will even come close to having such an elaborate storyline as Xenosaga (when all eight parts come out) will have. I’m no psychic, but if each game will be as packed with events and as much story development as the first, this gaming series will be any serious RPG-player’s dream. Or at least mine.

Another important part of the game is the Internet-like feature you can use, called the U.M.N. The U.M.N. is basically the Internet for the whole universe, and contains all the useful information you’ve been told through the game, as well as emails that contain weapons you can download as an attachment occasionally. Don’t ask me why that should make sense, it’s the future, they can do that. You can also visit areas you’ve been to before, even if they’re destroyed, or inside someone’s head. Instead of allowing you to physically travel to these places again, the areas are “saved” in the main character’s computer that is hooked up to the U.M.N. and is somehow inside of her or something.

Even though I’m saying such great things about the gameplay, there is the factor of the battles becoming very boring. Even though you can mix it up by using different attacks, the enemies you fight usually require a sort of “formula” of attacks to best defeat them. Not only this, but it usually takes a long time to defeat your enemies. Too often are there three enemies who have high HP AND can heal themselves (not that I’m saying it’s too hard – this just drags out the battles), and sometimes you have five of the same enemy to kill, and they usually take two characters attacking them before they die. Every time you go into another random battle, it becomes more laborious than actually having fun killing some stupid aliens no one knows about.

Overall:
Though it is a very good game, I am actually really disappointed in the lack of music during regular regular map movement and the use of the A.G.W.S. (compared to their use in Xenogears). Though the mechs are a major root point of the original game itself, they don’t play such a huge role in Xenosaga Part I from what I’ve seen. Perhaps their use will be more important than just retreating into them when you’re fighting a hard boss in the next game.

 

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PS2) Preview

Developer: Rockstar North | Publisher: Rockstar Games

No game has more hype, controversy and rewarding pedestrian killing than the Grand Theft Auto series. With the success of the GTA3, the transition to full 3D game play was the best thing to happen to this game series. And if GTA3 couldn’t be any better, GTA: Vice City blew every other game in the series out of the water. One can only imagine how the 5th installment of the GTA series, GTA: San Andreas will completely rule over all its predecessors, this October 2004.

Five years before the game starts off, Carl Johnson, the main character in this GTA, escaped from the pressures of life in Los Santos, San Andreas. The city was tearing itself apart with gang trouble, drugs and corruption. It was also a place where film stars and millionaires do their best to avoid the dealers and gangbangers. From the poor to the rich, Los Santos was not a very happy, or safe, place to live.

In the early 90s, Carl is forced to go back home, because his mother has been murdered. When he comes back to Los Santos, he finds that his family has fallen apart and his childhood friends are all heading towards disaster. However, on his return to the neighborhood, a couple of corrupt cops frame him for homicide. CJ is forced on a journey that takes him across the entire state of San Andreas, to save his family and to take control of the streets.

Some of the newest innovations in the GTA: San Andreas are in how you make and spend your money. There’s a lot to spend money on, and to get around a whole state, you’ll need plenty of cash. Like in previous GTAs, you will sometimes earn money by completing missions, but not always. That’s why side missions will take a new level of importance. One of the new ways you can get hold of cash, is by stealing other people’s stuff.

Burglary is another crime added to the repertoire of other crimes you’re able to commit in the GTA series freely. To begin the actual burglary side mission, you have to carjack a moving truck and then press the R3 button. There are dozens of places in San Andreas to burglarize, for example residential homes and businesses. Most can contain a variety of goods that you can make off with and sell.

If you don’t know how to burglarize well, you’re going to get caught. First of all, you can only rob places at night. You’re going to have to get something to hide your identity, like a ski mask or balaclava. You’re also going to have to bring a weapon or two, just in case someone is home, and they try to alert the police. But that’s only if you make enough noise to wake up the inhabitants, if any. People will be sleeping, because its night. If you’re able to slip in quietly, you may be able to make off with a VCR, TV, or the home stereo system. It’d do you well to check every room in the house, because making off with a 13 inch TV wouldn’t be better than making off with something with way more value.

Once you’re able to make off with your haul, you’re able to sell your goods, and make sure you get your money’s (and effort’s) worth out of it. The money you make can be put forward to buy items, food, clothes, guns, properties, and even businesses.

The way you spend your money influences the way you play the game. In San Andreas, the way you dress and take care of yourself tells a lot about who you are. As a result, your clothes and haircut affect the way others respect you. There are many barbershops throughout San Andreas, and with enough cash, CJ can get whatever cut he wants. The sharper CJ looks, the more respected he is. Rivals will take notice to him, and be more wary of him, as well as women noticing how good looking CJ is, and gaining more authority within his own gang, the Orange Grove Families. You can choose from many different cuts, including bald, afro, jheri curl, and cornrows.

Clothing affects the game as well. Through the game, if you dawn your gang’s colors, rival gangs and police will take notice to your allegiances easier, while gaining more respect in his own gang for doing so. Some missions will even require CJ wearing a particular outfit. Some of the places that you can choose clothing from are Binco, SubUrban, and ProLaps. Binco is a discount clothes store which sells cheap and utilitarian clothing. SubUrban has a bigger selection than Binco, and also targets a customer base that has a higher budget to spend on clothing, favoring brand-name apparel. ProLaps is an athletic gear outlet store, selling jerseys, shorts, hats and other sport related items. Prices at ProLaps are a bit more expensive, and CJ will have to earn a lot more money.

CJ will keep all the clothing he buys, so you won’t have to go back to the clothing store and buy clothes every time you want to change your look. All you have to do is walk into your safe house and look in the closet to see every piece of clothing CJ has earned/purchased at that point in the game. This adds a collecting mission to the game, and also a huge amount of customization for you character, for mixing and matching the clothing you have.

The game itself will be five times as big as GTA: Vice City, featuring three cities. Los Santos (the capital, and a mirror of Los Angeles), San Fierro (a mirror of San Francisco), and Las Venturas (a mirror of Las Vegas).

GTA: San Andreas will also feature a new type of transportation, the BMX bike. To me, nothing would seem more fun than riding a BMX bike to another city clear across the state. Now it just leaves to wonder if there’s going to be a paper route you can do (been hoping for that one since GTA 3). Among other improvements, there are also motorcycle cops, citizens who will not give up their cars so easily (when you’re carjacking), improved police AI and even more troublesome police.

If you’re wondering about the game’s musical score, Rockstar has not released too many details about what is actually going to be in the game, other than the fact that there will be music from many genres of the early 90’s. Since there are three different cities, there is a possibility that each city could have its own list of unique radio stations and music.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas hits the PlayStation 2 on October 18, 2004.

 

.hack//Infection (PS2) Review

Publisher: Bandai Games / Developer: CyberConnect2 Corp. || Overall: 9/10


Overview:
Part one in a series of four games, .hack // INFECTION takes place in a simulated MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) called The World. What .hack manages to accomplish, is give the feel of playing online, with the ability to trade with other players, explore many different areas, and go on assortments of different quests, in addition to plenty more. Your allies even act as their own independent player (for the most part), like they were being controlled by another player, playing alongside you somewhere else in the world. The main difference from .hack and an MMORPG is that there is a structured story, with characters in the game that you’ll encounter repeatedly throughout its tenure.

If you don’t like complicated games that take a long time to get into, this is probably not your game/gaming series. There is a lot to learn about .hack: weapons, shops, and areas in the World, Altimit (your simulated computer’s operating system), and more. As you progress through the game, more is added on, and that’s only half the game. A big part of the game is the story. The whole time you’re trying to figure out what the heck is going on, and just when you think you understand what’s going on, a bunch of random occurrences are tossed at you, confusing you even more, as well as enticing you to buy the next game in the series.

Graphics:
The graphics are great. There’s nothing to say bad about this game graphic-wise. For the most part, you can easily define something that is of interest from the scenery, and it’s easy to tell whether or not something is an enemy. There is constantly a myriad of colors for you to submerge yourself into. During battles, there are different colors flashing, things coming out of the ground, and things flying out of the air, all summing up to be a nice blend. The game’s frame rate almost never slows down, unless you have a horde of enemies unleashed at the same time.

The only unfortunate thing is how there aren’t any CG movies. There are movies, but they are usually done with an in-game sort of feel to them, not looking any different than what it does in-game.

Sound:
Something you don’t see in 99% of the games out there is that there are two different language settings. Some people don’t like to hear their games in English, so they can switch it to Japanese. I don’t like to hear the Japanese banter and having to read the text boxes in order to understand what’s going on, so I leave it on English. This will appease some of the whiners out there who wish that all their games are in Japanese instead of English, I suppose. Practically every time you talk with another character, there is a voice that accompanies it. The only time you’re not going to get voices are when you talk to the people in towns you trade with.

So, I guess by this time you’re asking “how good is the actual voice acting?” Well, it’s some of the best that I’ve ever heard. There are some annoying voices I’d rather not listen to, but I just don’t use those characters, and that basically solves the problem.

The musical score is definitely a well made one. Certain songs do get redundant because you visit certain areas which use the same music over and over. Certain examples would be dungeons, and root towns. You spend almost the whole game in either one of them, so you’ll begin to know the music by heart.

Gameplay:
The gameplay is superb. Yes, superb. If you don’t understand what it means, just take the “b” out of “superb”, and it’ll all make sense. There are three parts of the game I would like to discuss, gameplay wise, and they are:

The Battle System
All the fighting is done in real-time, and in full 3D. You can pause the game to request abilities that your allies have, or to use one of your abilities, but its basically non-stop action once you get into a battle.

An interesting part of the game is called Data Drain. Throughout playing .hack, it will keep reminding you that The World is a game inside your game, and this is one of the reminders. Data Drain is the ability/virus that rewrites an enemy’s data, and makes them into a weaker enemy. Every time you use Data Drain, you also obtain a rare item. It’s a great help at times, but if you use Data Drain too much you run the risk of having the viral infection in your character to spread enough that it can take away experience points, give status problems, or even kill you. Don’t ask me how that happens, it just does. The reason you have the ability in the first place, is because you have a bracelet that no one can really see. The bracelet was given to you by some girl named Aura at the beginning of the game, and when you complete this game, you still wonder who she is. I’m not expecting to find out who she is till Part Four.

Allies are a big and very essential part of the game. When you defeat an enemy, experience is not divided between allies, so you may as well have allies going along with you when you’re out in an area. Allies can help you out with healing, fighting, and special abilities. They even take care of themselves, buying items they’ve used during battle when they go back to town. The only downfall is that your allies have to be sort of babied. You have to constantly look out for them, and hope they’ll heal themselves before they die, resulting in the use of an expensive resurrection item. In addition, you also have to give them weapons, armor, and accessories so that they can actually help you in battle when you get to the higher levels. You have to be very careful, because if you give them an item you didn’t want to give them, there’s no way to get it back.

Town Interaction
Interacting with people, roaming the towns, and using the shops is a big part of the game. You usually can’t get very high levelled weapons at the shops, so that’s why you need to trade with the other players of The World. It’s a shot in the dark whether or not someone is going to have something you want, but when they have a weapon or a piece of armor that is obviously better than one you or an ally has, you’re going to want to trade for it. Most of the time it’s definitely in your favor when it comes to trading, but to get some of the very highly leveled weapons/armor, you won’t get them unless you trade rare items (or fairly hard to obtain items) for them. There is only one town per “server,” so you get to spend a while at each town before you get to go to the next one.

A portal, called the Chaos Gate, is in every town. The Chaos Gate is used to send you and your allies to an area in The World. Each area is made up of three different keywords, each influencing the kind of area it will be. This gives the possibility for a seemingly endless amount of areas to go to, and going to the same keywords on a different server is going to be different as well. There’s a long list of keywords as well, and if you wanted to go to an area to level up, you can choose to put together random keywords.

The Backend System
The backend system is useful and very easy to understand. You can get used to it in almost no time at all, but there are certain restrictions you’re just going to have to live with.

Like other MMORPGs, you have a limited number of items you can carry at any one time. So, the makers of The World have generously given you ninety-nine extra slots for distinct items (not multiples) at a place easily accessible in the root town. You aren’t able to use these in battle, however. You’re only allowed to have thirty distinct items at your disposal. It’s a good idea to keep it to the bare minimum, because when you go to an area through the Chaos Gate, and go through a dungeon, you’re going to get a lot of items.

Skills and abilities are fairly important as well. Unlike most RPGs, you don’t keep obtaining more and more skills to have all the time. The skills you have depend on what weapons and armor you have equipped. In general, it is simple to figure out what weapons/armor are generally better than others, because each has a Level designation. Sometimes a Lvl: 27 armor may be more useful to you than a Lvl: 32 armor, because of the abilities the Lvl: 27 weapon has. If you don’t care to have that certain ability, and would rather have the higher attack, you’d most likely go with the Lvl: 32.

Another part of the backend system, which is indirect, is the operating system Altimit. Everybody in the “real” world of .hack uses Altimit. With Altimit, you can read email and read news about what’s happening away from The World (because The World is just a game, after all). You find out a lot about how The World has made a few cases of seizures and comas through the news site (basically the whole reason why you’re playing this game, is because your friend Orca was one of these victims). There’s also a “bulletin board” type feature for The World, which answers questions people would actually ask on a help board for a game. This is basically the developer’s clever way of integrating an FAQ into the game. Parts of the story unfold on the bulletin board as well, and you find out areas that require your visiting to progress the story, or just to obtain rare items/allies.

Overall:
.hack Part 1 is a fairly short game, clocking in at around thirty hours. Personally, I beat the gane within two weeks. It’s a fairly aged game, so it was only $19.99 when I bought it, not $49.99 like Part 4 is currently. Even though its thirty hours, there ARE 4 parts to this game series. If each game is at least thirty hours, that’s 120+ hours of .hack fun. If you’re interested in this series, it’s probably a good idea to start with Part 1, as you’ll be able to understand the story, how to play, and be at a sufficient level to be able to play the other parts.

In addition to a great game, you get a free 45 minute DVD of .hack // LIMINALITY, which is exclusive to the video games. It gives another insight into the world of .hack, and how it influences people outside of The World. Stop reading and go get .hack // INFECTION.

 

Front Mission 4 (PS2) Preview

Developer/Publisher: Square Enix ||

Square’s Front Mission series isn’t one that many will recognize… The first game in the series, simply titled Front Mission, had been a strategy game similar to Final Fantasy Tactics, and the second a unique side-scroller where mechs called Wanzers jumped around and shot at each other. These first two Front Mission games had only been released in Japan, and were average games at best. However, the third Front Mission succeeded where its predecessors could not, with the PlayStation’s Front Mission 3.

Front Mission 3 is an amazing game. It has huge mechs blowing the crap out of other mechs (called Wanzers), the ability to elaborately customize your own Wanzer (or even create one from spare parts), and a story that is actually good enough to keep you playing. On top of that, there are two different stories you can go through. A huge part of Front Mission 3 is an “internet” type of feature in which you could go to different “web sites” that are in-game, and an email system. Unlike any other game, the vast in-game history of the world (and a little bit of actual world history) is a big part of understanding the game and why things happen.

Front Mission 4, also a strategy game, looks spectacular. It is set in 2096, and takes place in Germany and South America six years after the original Front Mission’s Second Huffman Conflict. Front Mission 4 intertwines the stories of two Wanzer pilots Elsa and Damil. In the world of 2096, there are 3 main economic powers: the OCU (which is made up of the countries between Japan and Australia, along the coast), the UCS (the U.S., Canada, and South America), and the EC (basically all the countries in Europe).

The game starts with Elsa’s story in Europe. Elsa is formerly a wanzer pilot in the French army, and is now in an EC team that tests and researches wanzers, called the Durandal. When an EC German base is attacked by an unknown force of wanzers, the Durandal is sent to investigate the attack, and uncovers a dark plot. The story switches over to Damil in South America. The UCS Venezuelan governor declares independence from the UCS, and deploys troops to blockade the country. UCS troops are sent in to repress the Venezuelan forces. Damil and his unit are among those deployed, but they have no interest in war. Damil’s story starts when he and his unit witness a plane crash in a Venezuelan jungle. What they find inside the cargo plane shapes their destiny.

The battle system in FM4 has been changed a bit from FM3. The main addition for actual battles is a new system called the Link System. Utilizing the new Link System allows you and your team members to use particular maneuvers against your enemies, whether they are Attack or Defense Links. With the Link System, you can have more than one friendly unit attack an enemy unit at the same time, obviously giving more damage to that enemy unit, or decrease the amount of damage given to a friendly unit.

Another noticeable change is in the Pilot System. Instead of having skills randomly become obtained like in FM3, it appears that you can get skills more freely by using “Enhancement Points” your pilots earn after a battle. The skills you are able to obtain increase with your computer’s rank. When you upgrade your computer, you can choose from more abilities to acquire. There are three types of skills that give you advantages during the game. There are Battle Skills (randomly activated during battles), Passive Skills (in effect as long as they are equipped), and Command Skills (available from a pilot’s list of commands).

Front Mission 4 is set for a release on June 15, 2004.

 

 

Unlimited SaGa (PS2) Review

Developer/Publisher: Square Enix || Overall: 3.0/10


Overview:
Unlimited SaGa is the latest in the underrated SaGa series. Let me tell you right now, you’re in for a big disappointment. This game seems like it’s an experimental mending of 3 games: SaGa Frontier 2, Legend of Mana, and Final Fantasy Tactics. The best way to explain each aspect is to put them in a numbered list.

1. The vastly different character choices and their journeys (from SaGa Frontier 2) is the basic formula for Unlimited Saga. Seems interesting right? Of course it is. That’s why I liked SaGa Frontier 2 so much (and still trying to beat it).

2. Remember the adventure stuff you always sent your allies on in Final Fantasy Tactics? Well, you get to do them now! Hooray! The only good thing it takes from Final Fantasy Tactics are those adventures, but the bad things it takes from it make this one good thing bad. This game also has the same basic towns, meaning they’re just pictures, and you don’t get to roam around. The whole game you don’t get to roam around at all. There’s no actual moving of a character in a conventional sense, like in any regular Final Fantasy (or really any) game. You hop around like it’s a board game. This is sort of like FFT, in that you just tell the person where to go and they go, and you don’t actually move them.

3. Most have probably not played Legend of Mana, but it was a pretty fun game. Unlimited Saga takes from this game the kind of towns there are, meaning the different places you can choose to go to in the city itself, but then mixed with the FFT towns. You don’t actually move anywhere, you just select the place you want to go and a picture comes up for the place. Legend of Mana was just one big game of different adventures you had to do for people, sort of like this game.

Now, take a game that mixes that interactivity you had in Legend of Mana for those missions (which you actually play), and the adventures you sent your allies on in FFT (which you didn’t play at all). You get something of a 50% interactivity game. That game is Unlimited SaGa. Oh, and you don’t get to see any of the places you’re traveling except for a little random picture in the top left corner.

The people in the bars that you can converse with are about as dumb as the main characters are flat (and that’s pretty bad). I’ve only played one out of the 7 characters you can choose from so far for about an hour, and I can say that there are some interesting aspects to this game. However, after a while these “interesting” things don’t become so interesting anymore.

Graphics:
The strongest point about this game is the graphics. Everything about this game graphic-wise is beautiful, because I actually really like hand-drawn-looking graphics. The only bad thing is, is that there is no animation except in battles, and the animations aren’t very good. Enemies look better than your characters actually do. Half the time you’re playing a board game, and the other half you’re battling. This gets kind of boring, because when there are some story scenes (which are rare) the only things that you see are the cut-outs of characters talking about stupid things.

Sound:
The music is good. It definitely sets a mood, depending on which adventure you’re in. But the game itself is not executed well, so the music becomes sort of useless to listen to because you don’t really even see what kind of a place you’re in. For example, there’s creepy music in an abandoned castle. But you don’t see this castle at all, so it takes away from the experience of enjoying the music.

Gameplay:
The gameplay is executed well FOR WHAT IT IS. In the beginning, I couldn’t figure out how to move my character across the board-game part of the game, until I accidentally hit my left analog stick. A weird circle thing popped up, and pointed towards the ????? box. OHHHH so that’s how you move. And the first time I saw my character move I was horrified to see that all it was, was a still black and white image of my character jumping around. “Isn’t that terribly fun?” you might ask. No, it isn’t.

Now, you have to say, “The battle system is good, isn’t it? That’s what you come to expect of the SaGa series!” Yes that’s what you are expecting, but you are let down and then shot in the head like a lame horse in the backyard. The battle system makes no sense. Let me start at the beginning. Ok, you enter a battle. Like in other SaGa games, you have HP and LP. Your attacks actually use HP, and in no time you’re down to 0 HP. Supposedly, HP is a wall “protecting your LP.” But since HP is depleted so fast, I see no real reason why HP even exists in this game. Sometimes, when you even have HP, your LP is decreased for no real reason. When you lose all of your LP that character dies, and doesn’t come back till you go back to a town.

There is also a “combo ’system’” (notice how I put system in double quotes, because this game really doesn’t have a system of anything). The combos are helpful, yet not helpful during battles. Moreover, it just doesn’t make sense. When you attack, you have 2 options. To either “Go!” or “Hold.” If you go, you just attack. If you hold, then you get the chance to string together multiple attacks by your allies, or the one character. Yet, you also run the risk of having an enemy get into your combo and deal more damage to you than you did to him. That happens almost every time, and makes you not want to use combos at all. The whole battle system is a mess, and there is nothing really going for you. You can’t even heal your freaking health, LP, or get rid of status problems without going back to town. It’s confusing what actually happens in a battle.

The backend system is even more confusing. There are these things that are called growth panels, but nothing (not even the instruction booklet) explains the functions of these panels and how you can increase your abilities using them. After every adventure you complete, you are forced to put abilities on to the growth panel whether you want to or not. That means when your growth panel is full, you’re going to have to replace one skill with another. So, it’s almost impossible to actually get ahead in this game. The rest of the backend system is just a cluttered mess that makes even less sense than the growth panel. After actually looking through it, you say to yourself “what’s the point of any of this?”

You won’t see yourself going to the main status menu very often anyway. It’s not like any of it is useful.

Crappiest Part:
The crappiest part is how this game does not get you into playing the game at all. The game does not tell you why you are playing, and it feels like its holding back on the actual story of the game. The rest of the game wouldn’t be so horrible if it only had some sort of a good story to keep you going on. After a while, the only reason I was playing this game was because I spent money on it. Fortunately, it wasn’t that much, so I’m going to see if I can get some cash off of it. Well, I came back from 2 places, and I couldn’t get anything more than 5 bucks for it. I bought the game off of EBay for 10 bucks. I may as well keep it…

Overall:
This was a horrible execution of so many good ideas. This game would have been good, if it were more interactive, and if it were an actual GAME. This game is just a bunch of commands that you don’t have any fun in doing. The only thing you actually get to do is when a random spinning wheel comes up and you hope you succeed in what you’re trying to do.

Don’t get fooled by the box, when it says to “embark on … quests and encounter completely new battle systems, [and] open-ended stories.” There are only crappy quests, new crappy battle systems and anything but open-ended stories. Unless open-ended means you make up your own story in your mind…

Unlimited SaGa isn’t a game I would suggest to anyone, not even to those who were fans of the previous games in the series. The game lacks interactivity and isn’t too appealing. Perhaps if you’re looking to waste some time, Unlimited SaGa would be worth looking in to, but it would be wise to search elsewhere.

 

Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal (PS2) Preview

Developer: Insomniac Games | Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Ratchet and Clank are back for another go around, and from what I’ve seen in the past, it’s going to be one heck of a game.

Ratchet and Clank is a 3D action game in which you control the characters Ratchet and Clank. Ratchet has at his disposal a vicious set of weaponry, ranging from flamethrowers to rockets to strong magnets. Clank assists Ratchet along the journey, and is most of the time on Ratchet’s back, occasionally becoming a helicopter, talking in a British accent when the story needs to be moved along, and more. Clank can also be used as his own independent character. The series seems to get better with each game.

Already packed with enough weapons to raze a small country, the addition of more weapons will make for an even more action-filled experience than its predecessors. Also with an online mode included, this game will be an awesome experience. Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal is set to come out in Fall 2004.

 

Dream #23035: The Dream at a Mall

I wrote this on April 13, 2002.

This dream was especially weird, but I can’t remember all the details. I remember I was just there, in the middle of a mall. I look in front of me, and the Wherehouse that I worked at (which wasn’t in a mall) was there.

Since I hadn’t worked there because of Spring Break, I decided to go inside and see what was happening in there.

It was Saturday, and the people I saw working there, I didn’t know, even though I worked on Saturdays. I waved to this guy I saw working there before, and he waved back. The whole store was different than before, it had stereos, satellites, and speakers, kind of like a Good Guys, on one side, and just a couple racks of CDs on the other side.  It seemed like they did it all in one day.

The manager saw me and came over, saying, “hey, what are you doing here?” I said, “nothing, just checkin’ up on ya guys, what’s going on with all this stuff?” The manager said, “you like? We moved around the whole store!”

The manager went away, and I was just kinda looking at the stuff there for a long time, feeling ignored because nobody that was working there was talking to me.

I finally left, and went into the crowd of people outside the store. I started walking towards another place, like I needed to go there or something bad would happen. Or something.

Then I woke up. Later on today, a dog I had for 7 ½ years, since I was 9, died of cancer.

 

PTA Protest at a School

About 20 stupid parents are protesting because theirs and other stupid kids break their arms while playing on the “horizontal ladder” in the “equipment” (with all the slides and stuff like that) that is worth $43,175 and the rubber is actually “causing the broken arms” when they fall, and the protesters say that wood chip mulch crap is better than the rubber.

I say its the dumbass kids’ fault, for being a dumbass and falling off the damn ladder! the parents are protesting so that the school doesn’t replace the rubber with the same rubber stuff. the wood chips would just make it a harder fall, and jam into their bodies when they fell down. oh yeah, thats a lot better…stupid 20 dumbasses! TEACH YOUR DAMN KIDS TO NOT FALL OFF A LADDER! That sure shows where they’ll be going in the future, if you ask me…they climb the ladder, but when they’re at the top, they fall and break their damn puny arms!