Wednesday, September 06, 2006

this week in retail and rage

O. Introduction.
Right now I'm exceedingly cravy. Between Starfox and Deep Labyrinth, my RPG-hunger and my appetite for space shooters are both powerful and sharp. Unfortunately, I'm broke as shit, and need to save some room in my budget for Contact and Baten Kaitos Origins later in the month.

Since these 'Cube and DS games are out of reach at the moment, there's only one outlet for my depraved retail and gameplay desires: my beloved pink handheld, the mighty GBA. I have thus far adopted a two-pronged strategy. To appease my desperate need for a new RPG, I have told myself most sternly that first, I must finish an old RPG, one already in my collection. And to satisfy my overwhelming desire to purchase something, I have embarked upon a massive clearance-rack safari. I shall treat of these out of turn.

1. Shooting for clearance, with clearance to shoot.
Yesterday, I put in four hours on my bike, roaming around, hoping for some clearance magic. Really, I was looking for Nanostray, a DS space shooter by this company Shin'en, who made a super-neato GBA space shooter called Iridion II. Seemed like a cheap way to scratch the itch caused by Starfox.(1) Struck out, though. Out of the two Targets, two Freddys, Circut City, three GameStops and an EB, there was no trace of Nanostray.

Indeed, there was little trace of anything even slightly interesting. Some Star Wars game where you use the Millenium Falcon to do shit, fly around, probably, blow stuff up. Now, not to offend, but I've logged my hours in Tie Fighter, I've played a fair bit of X-Wing, and the Millenium Falcon is pretty close to the bottom of the list when it comes to ships from that universe I'm interested in flying. Teen Titans for ten bucks for the 'Cube, that mighta worked, or Lego Star Wars, but I really did want something handheld, and something in the shooter genre, while I wait to score my next RPG...

Finally, however, at least a little bit of lightning struck. SigmaStar Saga. This is an RPG...whose random battles are space-shooter segments. I have no clue how long this will remain engaging, but for a ten-spot, it seems like a lovely way to provide myself with a purchase, an RPG, and a new shooter.(2) Now this is a retail victory!

2. Levelled up, but never level-headed,
old JRPGs will make you insane.
Just today, over at Penny Arcade, Tycho and Gabe have both issued terrific defenses of the classical JRPG. This is a genre they've both (among many others) savaged in the past, but its appeals are strong for them, and for me. For me, turn-based party combat is just about as good as it gets in a video game, and when it's done right, it'll easily carry me through the many, many sins of the average JRPG. At least for a while.

And it would be hard to find a more average JRPG than Final Fantasy IV. I quit playing this game a while ago. A long while ago. Since I put it up, I have beaten two GBA RPGs, gotten halfway through two more GBA strategy RPGs, put 30 and 65 hours into two 'Cube RPGs, fallen in love with Metroid Prime, and started a torrid affair with the Dreamcast.(3) Never did finish the fucker, though I felt like I was pretty close...

Two nights ago, Canada comes downstairs to deliver some recently-burnt cartoons. He finds me engaged in the most rage-filled gaming session I've ever had. I unloaded on him my bile and contempt for confusing dungeons with battles Every Four Steps and the total annoyance of the Active Time Battle System.(4) At the time, I was seriously foaming at the mouth and anus: no battle system is fun Every Four Steps, particularly when you're having to backtrack all the god-damned time, due to a shitty map system.

Three hours later, I was 9 rooms into a 12-room dungeon with no save points, and I decided to take on a minor side-quest battle. Halfway through the battle, the bad guys somehow took command of my party. I then got to watch the game play itself, as my Three hours of time, totally wasted, because SquareEnix just couldn't make a handheld game with a workable save system. Right around here I made a note to myself:
I have never enjoyed a video game less.

The next day, I recognized that particular rage as my usual response to being inadequately leveled up. This is a "feature" of JRPGs that gets me Every Single Time. At least once in every such title, I beat a boss, they tell me about the next boss, so I take the game at its word and go find that boss. Then I proceed to have an incredibly frustrating play experience, because my characters are nowhere near ready for that part of the game.(5)

So I spent a couple hours yesterday and today happily running through the new-weapon dungeon and snooping around for other side quests: when the characters are well-matched to the environment, even the Active Time Battle System can be fun. Something has to be fun, here: I've got 40 hours in this game on this one playthrough, probably another 12 in the first two times I tried to play. Not that I can explain why I've played so much, exactly.

It can't be the story, which 1,000 internet nerds claim was a breakthrough in video-game narrative, because (a) I couldn't follow the thread when I was actually playing it, and (b) I gave the game up for so long that I had actually forgotten three separate members of my party.(6) The gameplay? Well, I can't actually remember any point at which I was really stoked to be playing this game. The music's pretty great.

All I can say is that a couple members of the supporting cast are really appealing to me. There's a guy who gets brought back to life by his wife. This is pretty neat. However, she pulls this off by whanging him on the dome with a frying pan. That's awesome. Cid is genius throughout the game: every single time he died, I felt genuine stirrings in my tiny, blackened little heart.(7) Palom is such a mouthy little twerp that his sister bitch-slaps him, which is fairly common in these games, but is still hilarious. And Kain has a really cool helmet. A really cool helmet.(8)

Which, apparently, is good for 40+ hours. Christ, I can't wait to be done with this stupid game. And never again will I play any Final Fantasy game without a good map by my side. Come to think of it, maybe I just won't play another Final Fantasy game.(9)


(1)Curse you, Nintendo Power! You know I'm powerless to resist your miniguides! Such a cunning way to advertise...

(2)The opening text crawl is a nifty hard-boiled sort of science fiction. The middle paragraph of the main character's narration runs:

The Krill found earth sixty years ago, a humbling day for humanity. Their spaceships swarmed over the Atlantic. Gouged out a hunk of ocean floor the size of Canada. The sea boiled for three years, turning the sea life into gumbo. Melted ice caps and exposed mantle sludged into the hole like a wet rag. Good time to be a mapmaker.

That's nice stuff there. An added bonus is that the music is by Shin'en. The soundtrack for Iridion II is one of the finest game music achievements I've yet experienced, so I'm stoked for a bit more of their work.

(3)This is just to mention my involvement with comparable games. I shall pass over in silence the couple of action games and the several puzzle games I have involved myself with over that span.

(4)Combining the most irritating features of turn-based combat with the nagging insistance on your attention of real-time play! Thanks, SquareEnix! (Cockjockeys.)

(5)Frequently, I can actually prevail, due to my intensely awesome RPG playing. Seriously, nobody uses a healing spell, then a fire spell, then a couple physical attacks quite like me.

(6)I suspect that I cribbed the phrase "breakthrough in video game narrative" from GameSpot.

(7)And every time he came back, I felt like a chump for having been so easily manipulated by the dumb game.

(8)Seriously, the helmet is so cool I refuse to take the guy out of my party. I am in no way kidding. I even like the look of the helmet when he's in low-HP mode: his head looks exactly like Trumpy! TRUMPY!! "Trumpy, you can do stupid things!"

(9)Well, I do still have that copy of FFII to get through, and I've got maps for it, so.

3 Comments + Unabashed Criticism:

Blogger d.d. tinzeroes said...

I really don't want to think about RPGs too hard, but here goes anyways...

My introduction to (J)RPGs was the first Final Fantasy on a rented Nintendo over a weekend. I was in love. I got my Playstation, in, what? '99 or '00, and FFVII was the top of my list. I've played VIII & IX (VIII has its charms, IX annoyed the shit out of me).

But as fun as the FFs are, I had way more fun with Suikoden II, Thousand Arms was the oh-snap!, Luna II is a labor of love, and I have an emulator on my lapstop specifically so I can keep Xenogears at arms length at all times.

I guess I'm saying the best advice would be to steer clear of FF altogether.

1:00 PM  
Blogger Fat Contradiction said...

Another time, I'll spell out some of the material reasons I'm somewhat tied to the FF franchise. For now I'll merely point out that I like these games. Despite my griping, I'm 44 hours into FFIV, including 3 fun hours wrestling the final dungeon this evening. I enjoyed FFI thoroughly for the 20:57 it took me to get through it, and I've easily got that much in the budget for II. (Comes on the same GBA pak as I, after all.) 65 hours, with probably another 25 to come, the games have to be doing something right.

Basically what IV does right is this. I'm so good at RPGs that I can work so fast in battle that the vaunted Active Time Battle System becomes, for all intents and purposes, turn-based. Believe it. I was pissed off the other night because I'd forgotten a lot of the spells and stuff, and my speed wasn't up to snuff. Those times are gone, and my skills are once again in Full Effect. Note that my affinity for turn-based combat is on a par with my affinity for coffee: I can live without these things, but I can't thrive without them, and I prefer not to try days without'm.

Plus, as I mentioned, there's the good music and Kain's freaking sweet helmet. Man is that a cool helmet. (He's also got this fairly useless attack involving jumping and a spear. I use the move a lot, even though it's pretty pointess, because it makes me smile. Games are supposed to do that, after all.)

My love for the art style of early FF packaging is another pull. The booklet art, and the art in the I&II book I got free from Nintendo, both really rock me. This is because I'm an idiot who likes to listen to Led Zeppelin and huff nitrous.

I could go on. But right now I'd really like to get back to that last dungeon.


1:06 AM  
Blogger d.d. tinzeroes said...

Its funny because it wasn't that long ago you wouldn't go near a RPG.

I forgot to mention Legend of the Dragoon in my list of non-FF romps.

12:31 PM  

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