Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Time Flies

Has it already almost been a week? The big thing over this past weekend was some XBLA stuff, some Rock Band, and gearing up for MGS2. A lot of that time was spent on Puzzle Quest alone. I'm determined to play that game all the way through to the end. I have no clue how far into it I might be, though. It's just too good of a game; that devious combination of puzzle and rpg tropes is the definition of addicting.

I flew a few missions more in Ikaruga, too. I've made it up to around halfway through the 3rd level (on easy with max lives and continues). That game is beautiful in it's simplicity, and it looks great in high-def. Not a bad deal at $10, either.

I found Monster Hunter Freedom for PSP used, and in mint condition, for $20 at EB the other day, so I decided to give it a whirl. My first impressions are "someone please tell me how to play this game." A couple of times now I've gone off on my first quest for the hunter's guild, which from what I can make of the briefing, is just a test to see if you can either survive a trip out into the wilds or if you can actually find this cryptic artifact that I'm assuming actually exists, not having seen any evidence that would lead me to actually believe in it. I've just wandered around so far, attacking random things and wondering where the hell this "paws pass" or whatever it is I'm looking for is. My PSP battery died halfway through my morning commute today, and that didn't help matters.

My first couple of hours with Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance were spent reading the 3 'books' of back story in the "special" menu of the game. It's interesting how those are set up. There is meant to have been a book published by one of the minor characters in the first MGS, detailing the behind-the-scenes happenings in and around the events at Shadow Moses. The first article of interest is a mock book review of said book, the second a mock-noir recounting by a bumbling journalist of his own investigations into the incident and the book (kind of humorous), and the third is the 'book' itself, which reveals a few previously unknown facts about the Patriots, a guy called Richard Ames, and what really happened in those islands north of Alaska's Fox archipelago. Altogether this stage-setting amounts to about 500 'pages' (a paragraph or so each). I try not to dwell on what my reading all of this says about myself.

As far as the game proper, I've made it through the Tanker chapter, and about an hour or so into the Raiden section of the game. I've only played through MGS2 once in the past, so my memories of the story are nebulous at best. I'm thoroughly enjoying it to this point.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Shadow Moses Incident Data Analysis Complete

I just polished off the rest of the original MGS tonight, clocking in a final time of 11:32 and a rank of Iguana (it said I used 120 rations? It must be counting the times I did so and then died).

Those back-to-back Metal Gear Rex fights were giving me fits. This time through the game I was using chaff grenades all over the place, and so when I needed them to avoid Rex's annoying missile attacks, I only had a handful, and it was tough making them stretch long enough to bring the beast down with my Stingers (which I had saved more than enough of).

Then there was the mano-a-mano fight against Liquid... I've always hated that part, but after a few futile attempts, I found a good strategy and was able to knock that bastard out. Not as aggravating as my last couple of times through the game.

And thennnnnnnn.... the jeep escape sequence. I died like 4 times trying that, whereas in the past I can't remember dying at all there. But, in the end, I made it out, with Meryl, since I withstood Ocelot's torture earlier.

I'm still amazed at how well this game holds up. Since this is my first time through since MGS2 came out, I caught a reference by Ocelot to a Colonel Sergei Gurlukovich of the Spetsnaz, who turns up later in Sons of Liberty. I also was able to pinpoint the moment Ocelot showed his hand in betraying Liquid, after Liquid revealed his plan to turn the base into a new Outer Heaven. Yeah, MGS still rocks.

Monday, April 14, 2008

1998 2: 2008

I guess I have a thing for 10-year-old games at the moment. I've been re-playing Metal Gear Solid from the collection I recently picked up. I had only planned to re-play MGS2 as a refresher before 4 comes out in June, but I figured I might as well hop in at MGS1 considering the last two games in the series I played were MGS3 and Portable Ops (and, as anyone reading this no doubt is aware, the series chronology goes: 3>PO>1>2>4).

This is my fourth or fifth time through the game, counting solo and co-op (passing the controller back and forth with a friend) playthroughs. The game holds up amazingly well, especially with the texture smoothing the PS3 can do for it. There's also an option to stretch the image to 16:9, but while that has worked for me in the past with GTA: San Andreas, it makes MGS look really off. Most amazingly, though, is how the actual gameplay holds up. I keep trying to figure out if this is a sign of one amazing game or a whole industry's stagnation.

At first it was a bit jarring not to be able to pull off Metal Gear moves I've become accustomed to, like the somersault, rail-hang, or box-climb (let alone first-person aiming). Before long, though, I was once again used to the relatively simplistic control scheme of the original MGS. Even after all this time, the game feels nearly perfectly executed, including the cut-scenes. The character models are now overly blocky, but none of the impact is lost. Truly an amazing feat if there ever was one. And David Hayter just sounds so good. Also, the hand-drawn character portraits present in the codec calls are hella cool, and they should have stuck with those throughout the series.

I'm just past the torture sequence, at around 6-and-a-half hours in, which is somewhere around half-way if I remember correctly. I know I still have the Hind (D), Sniper Wolf, Vulcan Raven, and the Rex/Liquid fights to go. I'll probably finish the game this week and move on the part 2 shortly.

More contemporaneously, I've picked up Ninja Gaiden DS, and it's awesome! This is hands-down the best gameplay use of the stylus I've seen yet. Admittedly, I've not played Zelda yet, but all indicators point to Ninja Gaiden one-upping it in the control department. Ryu controls smoothly and swiftly outside of battle, and quickly and precisely in battle. Like any good ninja, his sole purpose is to flip out and kill people.

This game was created expressly for the DS, and it really shows. Even in DS-as-book orientation, the game just feels awesome to play (even for a lefty like myself, thanks to the flip option). Stabbing and jabbing with the stylus is like second nature, and jumping maneuvers like the Flying Swallow or Izuna Drop also feel great to pull off by flicking the stylus up to jump, then across or up again to perform the attack. When I think of the feeling of playing this game, there's only one other game that comes to mind with such a smooth sense of fighting and mobility, and that's Symphony of the Night, and that's a hell of a game to draw comparison to.

Briefly, I downloaded the demo of Ikaruga on XBLA, and it's pretty cool (and tough). I also popped in Rock Band for a bit, in perverse observance of Europe's plight with this game. And finally, I hit up Puzzle Quest for a few minutes. They really should have created unique quests in that game for each of the character classes. I'm so far in with my Wizard that it'd be a huge waste of time to start over with another character (but I have anyway, once before), but I'd like to try out other classes, such as the 4 new ones they are adding in the ex-pac just over the horizon.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Giving up on a couple.

Meh, I've had enough GTA: San Andreas and Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles.

I've put in a lot of time and effort with both, and enjoyed them, but I don't think I'm ever going to see them through to the end.

I finally beat Death in Rondo of Blood last time I played, woot! The next level is a boss gauntlet... Oh well, as a kid I never beat Castlevania or Castlevania III, both of which I really loved, so why should Rondo be any different? These old school Castlevanias are just hard as hell. The more forgiving playability (you might say easiness) of Symphony of the Night is a big part of why it's lodged solidly in my top three games of all time.

As for San Andreas, well, I've really just had enough GTA altogether. I was pretty much done after Vice City, and even though I'm sitting at around 75% of the way through the story of San Andreas, I haven't been playing it or having fun with it the way I did with the first two entries in this incarnation of the series. The days of GTA III and Vice City were the halcyon days of collegiate life in the dorm. My roommate and I would trade the controller back and forth over these two games and just have a blast for hours at a time. When I play San Andreas now, I'm solo, and it's just not that involving. I'd rather just cut to the chase, and to play a GTA game that way just isn't right, so I'm going to just walk away.

Lord knows I've got other stuff I could be playing.

I am getting GTA IV, but if I hadn't already had it on order for the awesome bargain price of $42 since a year or more ago, I might have held off for a while. I just hope the jump up to "IV" brings some significant differences to the formula. The story and presentation looks pretty good this time around, at least.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

FFVII Crisis Core Solved!

I finished the main quest and story tonight, putting in a total of about 20 hours. I only did around 20% of the missions, but easily spent 4 hours of that 20 on them.

This game is a unique mix of things that are done really well, and things that are done really poorly. The good ultimately outweighs the bad, in my opinion, leaving the score at around 60/40.

The good: amazing production values, awesome soundtrack, fun and addictive battle system, shittons of game content in the mission system, and the cool materia fusion system.

The suck: long-ass, un-skippable cut-scenes (often before boss battles), unintelligible faux-profound ramblings from the character Genesis, encounter triggers and encounter frequency, bland and empty environments, the DMW system constantly interrupting your battle flow for non-interactive slot machine randomness, long-ass, unskippable limit break animations.

There are also issues with over-leveling as a by-product of doing the side missions. As I mentioned, at the end of the game I had only done around 20% of them, and I was able to beat the ever-loving shit out of all the final bosses without breaking a sweat. This was on normal. I'm told hard mode is just obnoxious because all it does is up enemy HP by insane amounts without really changing enemy tactics at all.

As for the plot, and it's connections to FFVII proper, well, that's more of a subjective thing. There's a good 9 or 10 years between me and familiarity with FFVII, but for the most part it didn't matter. Zack's story is pretty compelling in it's own right, and even without being able to nail down every single reference or thing corresponding to something else in FFVII, I got a sense of what Cloud's motivation should be going into that game (even if he's an amnesiac or whatever for a while, there). Zack is also a really likable character, especially considering he's a Final Fantasy protagonist post-FFVI.

While the game has some issues, it's a lot of fun, and it's definitely one of the very top echelon of PSP titles, leaving most portable games far, far behind in the dust. So, a flawed gem, but a shiny and valuable one nonetheless.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

March pick-up post!

Top to bottom:

1)A second DS for my wife, a kanji study aid from Japan, and a couple of new DS titles

2)Non-MGS Playstation Family titles.  CC: FFVII is the "limited" Best Buy edition.

3)The Metal Gear Solid Essential Collection. The cover art is universally an improvment over the original versions.  At the bottom is the inside cover art for the MGS Digital Graphic Novel.

4)To the right is the Metal Gear Saga Vol. 2 disc I got from Game Crazy when I reserved MGS4.

5)StarCraft, and a bluetooth mighty mouse to play it with.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

I suck at StarCraft

It took me an hour and a half the other night to beat one of the missions of the Terran campaign. I'm only on the 6th or 7th one, but the game is still pretty tough. I'm starting to learn the hotkeys for stuff, and that's helping some, but I am still a total noob.

I'm on this mission now where I have to send some guys to rescue some other guys who are surrounded by a freakin' ton of Zerg. I can't seem to win anytime I throw my guys at the Zerg encampments along the way to where I need to go. I don't think I'm taking enough guys or something. I'll typically send 8 or so marines and/or firebats along with 2 to 4 each of the vultures and wraiths. Looks like I need to amass a larger force before sending them out to kill a bunch of Zergs and Zerg buildings.

I popped in Oblivion the other night, for the first time in forever. I've decided to try and at least get through the main quest of the game, and then maybe later go and do all the guilds and factions and stuff. I still can't see myself burning through enough of the game to necessitate buying Shivering Isles, the expansion pack. During this session, I did a couple of legs of the main campaign, and picked up a couple more pieces of the Daedric armor set, which I think is best in the game, though I could be mistaken. I'm beginning to agree with what seems to be the popular consensus--that this game is broken. Specifically, the bit about monsters leveling up just as you do. I saw a sage bit of advice online, though, which for the most part fixes the problems this causes: set the difficulty slider all the way down.

Also, I've been playing a lot more of Crisis Core: FFVII at home and on my commute. Good game, though in places I've thought the encounter rate was too high. I'm just at the part where Zack has met Cloud for the first time. The narrative so far is better than I'd thought it would be, but that's not really saying a lot. My favorite character is probably Angeal, followed by Zack himself, and then Sephiroth, who seems surprisingly more normal and level-headed here than he becomes in FFVII proper.